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Penn People

Samuel Norton Gerson 1895 - 1972

Penn Connection

  • B.S. 1920
  • Captain of chess team
  • Varsity wrestling champion

Samuel Norton Gerson, born in Russian Ukraine on November 30, 1895, immigrated to the United States at the age of eleven to live with relatives in South Philadelphia. Knowing very little English, Gerson attended night school to learn the language and worked to earn his keep. He adjusted quickly to his new school and neighborhood. Under his leadership, Southern High School won an unprecedented three chess championships. He participated in many athletic teams and was captain of his school baseball team, but it would be for his prowess in a different sport that he would soon gain major recognition.

In 1916 Gerson received a scholarship to study at the University of Pennsylvania. During his years at Penn he was active on the chess team, serving as its captain his senior year. According to the 1920 yearbook, Gerson was also a member of the Civil Engineering Society. Athletically, he developed into a top wrestler, winning every bout his senior year. His win in the bantamweight class at the Middle Atlantic Amateur Athletic Association Wrestling Championship led to a berth on the U.S. Olympic Team.

At the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium, Gerson won a silver medal in the featherweight class of freestyle wrestling. He left with a bad feeling about the games, however, after allegedly being told by an official after the match that he may have been unfairly prejudiced because he was Jewish.

After the games and his graduation in 1920 with a degree in chemical engineering, he moved the rest of his family from Budapest, Hungary, to the United States with him. He also began his career as an engineer.

Samuel Gerson was a firm believer that the Olympic Games were a peace movement and that Olympians had the opportunity to foster peace rather than war. In 1945, thanks in part to this ideal, Gerson founded a group in Philadelphia named Olympians International that was focused on fostering peaceful relationships between countries through their athletic associations. The group started out rather humbly but soon grew to include members from all around the globe and has become a much respected association of former Olympians. Gerson continued his involvement with the Olympics for many years and attended many more games before dying in 1972, only a month after the Munich games. The murders of eleven Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists upset Gerson very much and were said to have contributed to his death of a heart attack on September 30, 1972.