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Fighting the Current: The Rise of American Women's Swimming, 1870-1926 Paperback – August 12, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"uncovers the forgotten history of women's swimming, from the earliest racing competitions in the 1870s to Gertrude Ederle's successful English Channel swim in 1926...Bier's excellent narrative covers an important gap in the history of women's athletics." -College and Research Libraries News, July 2012.

"This seemingly modest book is so rich that it sneaks up on you like a racer making a charge to the finish." - New England Popular Culture Association Journal, April, 2012.

"Sport historians, women's studies scholars, sociologists, and swimming enthusiasts of all
backgrounds should avail themselves of this book."- International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, July 2012.

"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, December 2012.

"Overall, this is an important book in many ways...the book, which contains many unusual historical photos, is an interesting introduction to female participation in swimming history." From Nordic Sport Science Forum, December 2012.

"An excellent addition." --Midwest Book Review

About the Author

Lisa Bier is a librarian at Southern Connecticut State University.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: McFarland (August 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786440287
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786440283
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,862,979 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
A riveting tale of American women fighting to secure their rightful lane in the swimming pool!

In an era when girls' and women's participation in competitive sports is part of both an American and international athletic landscape it might be hard to imagine that a short one hundred twelve years ago these same girls and women were prevented from Olympic competition with their increasing presence in the games contested for much of the last century. Bier's book, Fighting the Current, highlights the impact women swimmers had on women's athletic participation between the late 1800's and early 1900's. Her socio-historical treatment of this era reads like watching an engaging documentary. Her writing is creative yet descriptive enough for your minds' eye to envision what the sport of swimming was like for these early American swimmers. Using historical records and amazing photos Bier takes the reader into the world of swimming in the latter half of the 19th century - a time when pools were scarce and clean water perhaps more so! She describes the waste along America's shores, particularly in its cities, and the general environmental degradation of the coasts. Indeed early swimmers played an important role in the environmental movement to clean and protect our oceans and harbors as the desire to swim spread up and down the coast. Their work also resulted in local investments in year round swimming pools with safe, clean water.

Cultural norms presented an enormous challenge to girls and women interested in both recreational and competitive swimming. Modesty laws restricted women's choice of bathing attire with dire consequences as women and their children were constantly drowning due to the weight of women's clothes and their inability to swim.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mystery Fan on May 17, 2012
Format: Paperback
Ms. Bier has created a seminal and groundbreaking work in Fighting the Current. Previous historians, notably David Barney and Linda Borish, have delineated how Charlotte Epstein and Louis deBreda Handley had through their founding of the Women's Swim Association in New York in 1917 served as the launching pad by which American women dominated competitive swimming during the 1920s. What Ms. Bier does is to delineate women competitive and recreational swimming prior to Charlotte Epstein. An alternate title for the book might be called "Before Epstein." Bier with evocative prose takes women's swimming back to the early 1870s when Kate Bennett founded her swimming school and through the 1880s, 1890s, and 1900s when women regularly competed in swimming races. We also get portraits of such early swim racers as sisters Ethel and Elaine Golding, Adeline Trapp, Rose Pitonoff, and the incomparable Australian, Annette Kellerman.

Ms. Bier rightly sees all the early achievements in New York in women's swimming as preparing the path for the emergence of America's most famous female swimmer of the 1920s, Getrude Ederle, in which her conquest of the English Channel in 1926 serves as the culmunation of her narrative. If you have any interest in the history of swimming this book is a must have.
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