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Mother courage

Swimming legend Mercedes Gleitze was the first British woman to swim the English Channel. But she was also a pioneer in other ways: an independent, working class woman who swam to fight poverty, says her daughter Doloranda Pember

Mercedes Gleitze was a pioneer long distance swimmer who, in 1927, became the first British woman to swim across the English Channel.

Her background was one of working class, immigrant status. During the last decade of the nineteenth century her parents travelled from Germany to England to look for work, and they settled in Brighton, where Mercedes and her two elder sisters were born. This is where Mercedes learnt to swim when she was 10 years old.

After World War I, the family resettled in Germany. In 1921, when she came of age, Mercedes returned to England, the country of her birth. She found a job as a typist in London, rented a flat, and became one of the ‘new women’ of that era, living an independent life of her own choosing.

© Northern Whig & Belfast Post
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About Outdoor Swimmer

As spring finally arrives, it is time to start planning your summer swims. We have features on wild swimming in Spain and Florida and full event listings for races in the UK and around the world. Plus, we report from Russia and the UK on the final flurry of the season’s cold water swimming competitions. In this issue’s performance zone, as well as all the usual training and nutrition advice, we teach you how to master easy butterfly. This issue we celebrate a true pioneer of the open water: Mercedes Gleitze, the first British woman to swim the English Channel, was an independent working class woman who promoted open water swimming to a new audience.
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