The 1905 Fastest Girl on Earth: Dorothy Levitt

First British Woman to Compete in an Auto Race

Pioneering female race car driver Dorothy Levitt wowed the British public with her winning skills.
At the turn of the 20th century, Dorothy Levitt was the first British woman to compete in automobile races, setting and holding several records. A media darling, she audaciously carved out a female role in the rapidly growing and previously male-only sport that was central to the emerging car sales industry.

If you saw the 1986 movie Top Gun, you’ll remember the tag line: “I feel the need … the need for speed.” But 81 years before Maverick and Goose uttered those words, Dorothy Levitt, self-styled “motoriste,” became the first English woman to compete in automobile racing, setting the Ladies World Land speed record and earning the nickname The Fastest Girl on Earth, driving an 80-horsepower Napier at the lightning speed of 79.75 miles an hour.

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Annette Kellerman – Taboo-Busting Mermaid, Women’s Health Advocate

As an Athlete, Actress, and Designer, She Swam Her Way to Fame

The first mermaid of Hollywood's early silver screen era.
During the early decades of the 20th century, Australia-born Annette Kellerman was renowned as an athlete, actress, writer, stuntwoman, women’s health and fitness advocate, and clothing designer who revolutionized female swimwear. She performed the first water ballet, invented the sport of synchronized swimming, and was the first mermaid of the silver screen.

Ever since Disney’s aquatic Princess Ariel debuted in 1989, mermaids have become a thing. Before Ariel, there was actress Glynis Johns as a mermaid named Miranda in 1948. And who can forget Daryl Hannah striding ashore in all that strategically-placed hair in the 1980s’ movie Splash? But long before any of those film mermaids, there was Australia’s Annette Kellerman.

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Gertrude Benham: First Woman to Summit Mount Kilimanjaro

Early 20th Century Mountaineer Received Little Credit for Her Exploits

A long view of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain.
The first female climber to reach the summit of Africa’s highest mountain, Gertrude Benham should have been included in the record books, but few histories of Kilimanjaro even mention her name.

It was a classic case of “anything you can do, I can do better,” set in the magnificent Canadian Rockies in 1904 when Gertrude “Truda” Benham, at 36, set out to satisfy her wanderlust by climbing as many Rocky Mountain peaks as she could before summer’s end.

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Diane Crump: Horse-Crazy Girl Who Revolutionized Thoroughbred Racing

Historic horse race in 1969 that changed the rules.
Riding Bridle ‘N Bit in the 7th race at Hialeah Park on February 7, 1969, Diane Crump (center) smashed through the barriers that kept women from participating in the sport of thoroughbred racing.

Until the 1960s, gender discrimination was a proud fact of life in the male-only world of thoroughbred horse racing in the United States. Females could not be licensed as jockeys. But a gutsy, 5-foot tall, 104 pound slip of a woman named Diane Crump changed all that at Florida’s Hialeah Park in 1969.

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Ágnes Keleti: Holocaust Survivor and Celebrated Olympic Gymnast

Ágnes Keleti, Olympic gymnast and holocaust survivor
As a 16-year-old rising star in the 1930s, Ágnes Keleti was Hungary’s National Gymnastics Champion. But her life changed dramatically as the Nazi regime enveloped Europe and gave rise to extermination camps. Though she lost her father and other family members to Auschwitz, she survived to achieve stunning international athletic success and relocate to Israel.

As a little girl born in Budapest, Ágnes Keleti dreamed of becoming a cellist. Instead, she saw her father deported to Auschwitz, escaped the Nazis using forged identity papers and, ten years later, became one of the greatest Olympian gymnasts of all time and the most successful Jewish female athlete in the history of the Games.

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‘Bloomer Girls’ Baseball Teams

The Ladies Baseball Club of Denver in Aspen in 1989.
Typical of Bloomer Girl baseball teams, the Ladies Baseball Club of Denver, shown here in 1898, traveled the country challenging male and female competitors wherever they could find them.

They’re not the Houston Astros; they never had a movie made about them. But these Wednesday’s Women were once the Girls of Summer. The first women paid to play baseball, they took the field for their first game in 1875. Continue reading “‘Bloomer Girls’ Baseball Teams”