Fighting the Current

The Rise of American Women’s Swimming, 1870–1926


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About the Book

In 1926, Gertrude Ederle became the first female to swim the English Channel—and broke the existing record time in doing so. Although today she is considered a pioneer in women’s swimming, women were swimming competitively 50 years earlier. This historical book details the early period of women’s competitive swimming in the United States, from its beginnings in the nineteenth century through Ederle’s astonishing accomplishment. Women and girls faced many obstacles to safe swimming opportunities, including restrictive beliefs about physical abilities, access to safe and clean water, bathing suits that impeded movement and became heavy in water, and opposition from official sporting organizations. The stories of these early swimmers plainly show how far female athletes have come.

About the Author(s)

Lisa Bier is a librarian at Southern Connecticut State University.

Bibliographic Details

Lisa Bier
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 220
Bibliographic Info: 26 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2011
pISBN: 978-0-7864-4028-3
eISBN: 978-0-7864-8726-4
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Introduction      1

1. Safe Waters      3
2. Swimming Schools and Kate Bennett, New York’s Swimming Instructor Extraordinaire      15
3. Swimming for All      19
4. Swimming as Spectacle      29
5. The Rise of the Amateur Movement      40
6. International Waters      46
7. The Water-Safety Movement and the Volunteer Life Saving Corps      53
8. Women and the Volunteer Life Saving Corps      61
9. Elaine Golding, Rose Pitonof, and the Rise of the Female Racer      69
10. The National Women’s Life Saving League      78
11. Looking Towards the Olympic Games      82
12. Sullivan’s Last Stand      90
13. Women Enter the World of Amateur Athletics      94
14. The New York Women’s Swimming Association      102
15. Championships and the Beginnings of International Competition      110
16. The 1920 Olympic Games      115
17. Famous Athletes      120
18. The 1924 Olympic Games      126
19. Gertrude Ederle      135
20. The English Channel      139
21. Training      142
22. Gone to Neptune      148
23. Suspicions and Facts      154
24. Turning Professional      159
25. Try, Try Again      162
26. The Channel Again      168
27. Victory      175
28. Homecoming      183

Notes      193
Bibliography      207
Index      211

Book Reviews & Awards

“An excellent addition to women’s sports history collections”—Midwest Book Review; “uncovers the forgotten history of women’s swimming…Bier’s excellent narrative covers an important gap in the history of women’s athletics”—C&RL News; “this book is a joy. It deserves to be read by a wide academic audience but also is readable enough to be given to your friends who are swimmers”—Sport in History.