Thorn: Ida Schnall and the New York Female Giants

From SABR member John Thorn at Our Game on July 5, 2016:

James E. Sullivan, right-hand man to Al Spalding’s publishing empire, had a problem in 1912. The hosts of the Stockholm Olympic Games opened the quadrennial competition to female swimmers and divers. As secretary of the United States Olympic Committee, Sullivan, however, viewing himself as a defender of modesty, refused to let American women compete. In the following year, Ida Schnall—one of these barred American swimmers and an all-around athlete as well as a vaudeville entertainer—wrote to the New York Times, now as a member of the New York Female Giants, a baseball club: “He objects to a mild game of ball or any kind of athletics for girls. He objects to girls wearing a comfortable bathing suit. He objects to so many things that it gives me cause to think that he must be very narrow minded and that we are in the last century.”

Sullivan died suddenly one year later, before he could see Miss Schnall in her next starring role, as a movie actress wearing what appeared to be a very comfortable bathing suit. (Indeed, the film precipitated an obscenity trial in Kentucky.) Undine was a gauzy aquacade (“breezy, bewitching nymphs”) of the sort that had made a star of Australian-born swimmer Annette Kellerman. During the filming of Undine, Ida Schnall dove 130 feet off a Santa Cruz Island cliff, though she had never exceeded a drop of 75 feet before. Upon the film’s release in 1916 a reviewer wrote, “No one really cared much about the plot of Undine: It was enough that the sylphlike Ida Schnall showed up from time to time in various states of near-nudity.”

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Originally published: July 6, 2016. Last Updated: July 6, 2016.