On July 12th, 1912, 107 years ago today, Australian Fanny Durack became the first woman ever to earn an Olympic swimming medal. Durack represented Australasia, which was the combination of the modern nations of Australia and New Zealand. Swimming that year were held in a 100 meter course constructed in Stockholm harbor.
Women’s swimming was added to the Olympics in 1912, and at the time there were only two women’s events: the 100 meter free and the 4×100 meter free relay. Durack broke the world record in prelims, swimming a 1:19.8, making her the first woman to break 1:20 in the event as well. She was off that prelims time in semifinals and finals, but was still fast enough to claim victory. In addition to winning the first women’s swimming medal at the Olympics, Durack became the first Australian woman to win an Olympic medal in any sport.
In Australia at the time, women were banned from competing in front of men, so Durack’s club was not supportive of sponsoring her trip to Stockholm for the Olympics. Without that support, a local fundraiser had to be held in order to get Durack to the Games. After the Olympics, Durack was very active in fighting all forms of sexism, particularly in sports. She was the only non-European competitor in the event.
She would go on to break 12 world records before retiring in 1918, and at one point held the world records in all official swimming distances.