Date of Award

2007

Level of Access

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Advisor

William J. Baker

Second Committee Member

Marli Weiner

Third Committee Member

Richard Judd

Abstract

This dissertation explores women's experience in sport as reported by the popular press, 1900-1936. Examining the once widely-popular English Channel swim, it explores how media coverage of sport shifted, reflecting changes in international and domestic political climates, and cultural perceptions of gender. Drawing upon international and local newspapers, popular periodicals, and advertising campaigns, this work suggests that changes in reporting about female endurance swimmers in the past holds significance to contemporary cultural identity. In the wake of World War I, the American press reported avidly on the sport of marathon swimming. The English Channel swim symbolized more than just a marathon; the media cast the swim as an international competition which symbolized the ultimate goal for divergent ideological causes, including feminism and nationalism. An almost impossible physical challenge, the swim represented a new frontier for Americans to conquer and provided a new means of asserting cultural hegemony. In the mid-1920s, women from several nations raced to become the first to swim across unaided. By 1926 women's endurance swimming received unprecedented newspaper coverage, capturing more front-page headlines than the most celebrated male athletes. This work documents the experience of women athletes in a sport that once assumed enormous meaning in American culture but has since been omitted from sports history literature. It examines sportswriters' widespread coverage of women Channel swimmers in light of suffrage, the Bohemianism of the lost generation, fluctuations in gender roles, and increased commercialization in organized sport. The intense but fleeting reportage of Channel swimming also provides insight into post-war nationalism and the transformation of athletes into national heroes in American's golden age of sport. Finally, this work explores the decline of media coverage of Channel swimmers in the 1930s in light of changes in the economy, the rise of mass-advertising and consumerism, and the increased power of Hollywood in molding a more conservative ideology. Analyzing the quality and quantity of coverage of Channel swimming in various print sources, this project challenges assumptions about the perception of women athletes and suggests that the history of women in sport has been influenced by contemporary political and cultural values.

Files over 10MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."

Share