Taking the Plunge: a feminist history of swimming

Archive Events & Talks (9 November 2022, 6.30pm - 7.45pm)
In this talk and Q&A session, Anna Maria Mullally outlines women's swimming history in the UK, up to the period of Mercedes Gleitze.
This autumn Fabrica presents a brand-new artwork by Dublin-based artist Vanessa Daws. At Home in the Water is an immersive film installation that offers visitors a unique insight into the experience of the long-distance swimmer.

Vanessa Daws’ inspiration for the artwork is pioneer swimmer Mercedes Gleitze (1900–1981), and the exhibition also tells her fascinating story alongside material about Brighton’s swimming heritage. Born in Brighton in 1900, Mercedes was the first Englishwoman to swim the Channel in 1927 and was a huge celebrity in her day, lauded for her record-breaking endurance swims.

With reference to the specific gender-related and socio-economic dimensions of women's swimming history, Anna Maria Mullally will seek to situate Mercedes in her historical context, exploring how gender and class attitudes at that time affected Mercedes' athletic achievements and her personal and financial motivations. Alongside this Anna Maria will also outline how Mercedes Gleitze became the physical embodiment of a new type of 'modern woman' and how this form of athletic womanhood was received by the media and by the British public at the time.

Anna Maria Mullally is a Lecturer in Media Studies in the Department of Humanities at the Technological University of Dublin. She is currently researching a PhD in the area of women’s swimming and bathing practices in early 20th century Ireland as they were reflective of questions of gendered citizenship and of sporting and leisure participation. Themes covered include mixed bathing and moral constraints, beach fashions, women’s sporting participation and shifting ideas around gender and citizenship.

Anna Maria is also a swimmer and has completed two successful English Channel crossings as part of a relay team.
Image 07 11 2022 at 17 09

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