Annette Kellerman, the first woman to wear a one-piece swimsuit

“I have been asked ten thousand times why I like to swim and I have given a different answer every time. You see the water always teaches me a new story. It is three times as large as the land and too big to be disturbed. Therefore it has not been crossed out by man and goes on and on, the most elemental thing in all the world. And why do I believe in swimming? To put it briefly, swimming is a pleasure and a benefit, a clean, cool, beautiful cheap thing we all from cats to kings can enjoy.” – Annette Kellerman

Annette Kellerman
Annette Kellerman

Biography of Annette Kellerman

Annette Kellerman was just six years old when she developed weakness in her legs. The cause of her ailment wasn’t clear, but treatment required wearing steel braces, which were not only painful, but left her feeling humiliated. To further help recovery, her parents enrolled Annette in swim classes upon the advice of a doctor. While Annette didn’t want to swim, fearing in part embarrassment of her legs, the doctor felt confident that swimming would help, and so her father proceeded with the plan. Annette would look back on her father’s decision with gratitude, appreciating his wisdom.

With time her legs recovered, and as a teen she became a champion swimmer, a record holder in the 100 yard swim in her native Australia, and world record holder in the mile.

She then took on long-distance swimming, swimming over 13 miles of the Thames river in under 4 hours. And she made three attempts to swim the English channel, never completing the entire journey, but once staying in the water for more than 10 hours.

But more than just swimming, she became famous for advocating for women’s rights.

“I can’t swim wearing more stuff than you hang on a clothesline,” she once said about swimming.

Annette Kellerman in full length swimsuit
Annette Kellerman in full length swimsuit

In a time when women were expected to wear dress and pantaloons to swim, she wore a one-piece suit. Such behavior led to her arrest on Revere Beach in Massachusetts in 1907 for indecency. But doing so also helped change the social norms. Her one-piece suit, known as the Annette Kellerman, became a popular swimsuit for women.

Sources:

How to Swim by Annette Kellerman, Published by University of Michigan Library, 1918 / Photograph of Annette – Bain News Service, Publisher. Miss Annette Kellerman. 3/13/19 date created or published later by Bain. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2014683563/> / Swimming – Annette Kellerman. [No Date Recorded on Caption Card] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2002709748/>.

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Please click here to read another story of an athlete, Emma Sharp.