Frances McElwain "Frannie" Wakeman

March 30, 1914 - September 18, 2005

Cohasset, Massachusetts

Frances McElwain Wakeman was an extraordinary sailor. She won the Adams Cup, the North American Women’s Sailing Championship, four years in a row between 1935 and 1938. She was a tireless advocate on behalf of women who raced. Her example of success inspired many young sailors to reach high to achieve their goals. While winning was a priority Frannie Wakeman wanted young sailors to recognize the important virtues of sportsmanship, fair play, and to understand that competition is a pleasurable endeavor.

Frannie Wakeman participated in sports other than sailing including field hockey and equestrian events. An article published by the Boston Globe in 1981 described her abilities on the water, “Her skills, as much as she would rather not dwell upon them, are incomparable. They are superior to men in the area who are rated in the hot-shot category.” Her son, Samuel, was a crew member on the successful America’s Cup defender, “Intrepid” in 1967 and on Courageous in 1974. He talked about her intensity in an interview with the Globe, “If she had her way, she probably would have flown planes. She enjoyed pushing things to the limit.” She also had three daughters. Samuel added, “She encouraged us to find something to do, and do it well.” Mrs. Wakeman won the Massachusetts Bay Championship five times (1935-1939). She also won the Wells Bowl in the International 210 Class. She is the only woman to have won the regatta dating back to 1942. Her daughter, Susie remembers her mother’s quest to excel, “She was competitive in any sport she tried. She traveled all over the country to play badminton and she was good at tennis, but sailing is where she really shined. My mother always tried to help young sailors when they got involved.”

A 251 piece of waterfront property in Hingham, Massachusetts was about to be sold for development. Frances and her husband, Sam, raised the funds to acquire the property to preserve it as an open space. The project is an example of the types of community work she took on.

Two major sailing championships are named in her honor: New England Junior Women’s Singlehanded Championship, and the MASS Bay Women’s Championship. She was inducted into the New England Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. She was a Trustee of the Adams Cup for many years (1947-2001). Frannie Wakeman served as a judge at many regattas across the USA. Of the experience of being a race officer she said, “All in all it’s been a great experience, making wonderful friends and seeing parts of the U.S. I never would have visited. So this Adams Cup medal (1935) led to many unforgettable times.”

~Gary Jobson

Preserving America’s Sailing Legacy

Engaging Sailing’s Next Generation

Stay Connected to the National Sailing Hall of Fame