Nowhere is the question of equality among the sexes most argued, perhaps, than in the realm of physical activity. For millennia, women were considered unsuitable to strenuous activity. This included sports or anything of an outdoors nature. Of course, this distinction was only applicable to aristocratic women, as the lower classes did not have such luxuries. Women could often be found in the fields, sweatshops, and factories throughout history. The achievements of “the fairer sex” cannot be thoroughly understood without seeing how women have pushed their physical boundaries to prove that they can do anything men can do.
Gertrude Ederle – Swimmer & Olympic Champion
“When somebody tells me I cannot do something, that’s when I do it.”
~ Gertrude Ederle
This daughter of German immigrants learned to swim at a tiny indoor Manhattan pool. As a member of the Women’s Swimming Association, she was able to compete and take advantage of new advances in swimming techniques, giving her more of an edge.
At the 1924 Summer Olympics, Ederle won the gold as a member of the U.S. 4×100 meter freestyle relay swim team, and set a new world record in the event. This launched her career, and she continued to break records along the way. In 1926, she set a record for swimming the English Channel that would stand for almost 25 years.
Despite hearing loss contracted when she was a small child with measles, Gertrude Ederle showed the world that you didn’t have to be a man to compete.
Juliette Gordon Low – Founder of the Girls Scouts
“The work of today is the history of tomorrow and we are its makers.”
~ Juliette Gordon Low
Juliette Gordon Low was born to a cotton broker and writer in Savannah, Georgia in 1860. She was educated and had many hobbies. It was expected that the highest ambition of young women of her time and station should be to marry, perhaps more so for Low, as she began losing her hearing at 17 years of age. However, it would only be after becoming a widow that she would be able to realize her true ambitions.
While traveling, taking classes, and doing charity work in London, Low met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the creator of the Boy Scouts. She was impressed with his philosophy of military preparedness mixed with fun. She became involved with an all-girls off-shoot of the organization called the Girl Guides. As a leader, she encouraged the teaching of self-sufficiency for girls, and organized lessons in wool-spinning, livestock care, knot-tying, knitting, first aid, and camping, to name a few.
She took this newfound purpose with her to America in 1912 and founded the American Girl Guides, later to become the Girl Scouts of America. Today, this organization encourages girls from all walks of life to become intelligent, well-rounded women who are as capable as any man, and encouraged to be their very best.
These two women broke boundaries. One tested the limits of what a woman can do and pushed society to see women as equals in sports. The other looked to a future where the equality of women and men should never be in question. They did it without hearing. They are heroes.