Swimming in the Mainstream: A Story ofWomen’s Athletics in Twentieth Century America

Becky Jager, History

This project exposes female athletes who redefined women’s physical capacity and engaged in sociopolitical and socioeconomic realignments during the twentieth century. A growing number of contemporary scholars are looking to sports as a lens to examine the culture of social classes, behavioral values, and resistance to social categories and expectations. Sports history offers a particularly important vehicle for analyzing race, class, and gender issues. My project will contribute to this emerging body of scholarly literature by offering women’s swimming as a microscope to examine cultural gender categories, hegemony, resistance, and subaltern agency in the twentieth century. My methodological approach is varied. It includes the use of archival sources, diverse forms of media materials, and interviews with athletes, coaches, and administrators. Secondary sources and biographies will provide empirical evidence for my theoretical analysis. The women in this study demonstrated a plurality of agendas. They proved their athleticism, won over substantial mainstream audiences, and established a legitimate voice to advocate for increased female opportunities in sport, education, and work. In the process these women subverted traditional ideologies and institutions. The intended outcome of my work is a monograph, for which there has been preliminary interest from the University of Washington Press.