The ‘Australian Mermaid’ Who Introduced Recreational Swimming to American Women

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In the summer of 1907, an Australian woman by the name of Annette Kellerman made a startling appearance on the sands of Revere Beach just north of Boston. Amid the female sunseekers wearing the standard bathing costume of the time—blouse; skirt; stockings; swimming shoes—she strolled toward the water in a short-sleeved unitard cut to two inches above the knee.

For this stunt, Kellerman was promptly arrested for indecent exposure. “She was denounced as a wanton,” reported the New York Times, “and dark prophecies were made as to the future of America.”

The incident, which ended with a judge dismissing Kellerman on the proviso she wear a robe when walking to the water, was just the kind of publicity Kellerman needed on her quest to bring recreational swimming to American women.

Read Atlas Obscura

About Author

Production engineer and certified swim coach. Full-time IT consultant, spare-time swimming aficionado. 2 sons, 2 daughters and a wife. President of the Faroe Islands Swimming Association. Likes to run :-)

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