Pioneering Women In San Francisco Bay

Courtesy of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

The International Swimming Hall of Fame archives have a photo of an old pigskin award presented in 1912 to Nell Schmidt, a pioneering open water swimmer from the Dolphin Club in San Francisco, by the City of Alameda, California (on San Francisco Bay).

The award is at Nell’s surviving granddaughter’s home in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.

Schmidt, shown on left, swam across San Francisco Bay in 1912 as a 20-year-old.

Her award reads, “Presented to Miss Nell Schmidt by the People of Alameda, California In recognition of her great achievement in being the first woman to swim across San Francisco Bay and for her loyalty to her home city – Alameda. 1912

In Tim Johnson’s authoritative book on open water swimming, the History of Open Water Marathon Swimming, he sites another swimmer Hazel Langenour who reportedly swam across San Francisco Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge in August 1911 as recorded by the Dolphin Club,

Her feat was reported by the New York Times newspaper under the headline, ‘Girl Swims Golden Gate’.

Langenour is shown above in a photo from the Dolphin Club archives as she is about to enter the San Francisco Bay.

The article from August 20th 1911 with a San Francisco byline, reads, “Girl Swims Golden Gate. Miss Hazel B. Laugenour, Aged 19, First Woman to Do It. Miss Hazel B. Laugenour, a nineteen-year-old college student, swam across the Golden Gate to-day in 1 hour and 28 minutes. She was the first woman to accomplish the feat. Miss Laugenour clipped two minutes off the record set by Edward Caville, an Australian professional, in 1891, which stood until July 23 last, when Walter Pomeroy crossed the harbor entrance in 1 hour 24 minutes and 36 seconds. The Golden Gate is 1,500 feet wide at its narrowest point.”

Upon researching this information, Johnson said, “We are stroking the cold embers of a near century old controversy.”

Whoever was first – or second, it was in the early years of open water swimming in California. During this era, the opportunities for women to swim were minimal – the 1912 Stockholm Olympics were the first time that women (27 women total from 8 nations) were allowed to compete in swimming (100-meter freestyle and 400-meter freestyle relay) at the Summer Olympics. The USA only sent 7 male swimmers to Stockholm – and no women – to the 100-meter course that was build in Stockholm Harbor.

Note: The Golden Gate Bridge with a main span of 1,280 meters, was opened in 1937.

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