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Sonja Henie At the Winter Olympics. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-100744).

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Henie, Sonja (08 April 1912–12 October 1969), figure skater and film actress, was born in Oslo, Norway, the daughter of Hans Wilhelm Henie, a wealthy fur trader, and Selma Lochman-Nielsen. In her autobiography Henie described herself as sometimes feeling like a “lottery winner.” If by that she meant that she was born into circumstances allowing her the opportunity to develop into a world-class athlete, she was certainly correct. Her father was a champion sportsman himself and encouraged her to skate and ski from an early age. Once her talent for figure skating became apparent, her parents invested a portion of their wealth in her skating career, providing her with the coaching, dance lessons, costumes, and tutors that allowed her to quit school and concentrate on her sport....

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Hovey, Henrietta (06 April 1849–16 March 1918), Delsartean teacher, was born Henriette Knapp in Cooperstown, New York, the daughter of Edgar Knapp and Catharine Tyler. Hovey’s lifelong interest in clothing reform is traced to an early experience when a doctor, to combat her frailty and ill-health, prescribed loose-fitting garb that would allow easy breathing and free motion. By her early twenties, Hovey was designing her own unique uncorseted costumes—subtly colored flowing gowns that became her hallmark—and lecturing on the aesthetic and health aspects of dress. To improve her speech for such presentations, she entered the Boston School of Oratory in the early 1870s where she was introduced to the system of expression developed by François Delsarte (1811–1871), a French theorist and teacher of acting, voice, and aesthetics. Delsarte’s theory was an elaborate derivation of his personal interpretation of the Christian Trinity and featured particular attention to the relationship between body, mind, and spirit in the practical work of expression in any of the arts. Hovey’s interests expanded to include physical culture and expression, and she traveled to Paris where she met Delsarte’s widow and studied with his son Gustave before the latter’s death in February 1879. In the late 1860s or 1870s she married Edward B. Crane; their son was born on 21 April, probably in 1878—possibly in 1867....

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Annette Kellerman Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-91616).

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Kellerman, Annette (06 July 1887–05 November 1975), swimming, vaudeville, and film star, was born in Sydney, Australia, the daughter of Frederick Kellerman, a musician, and Alice Charbonnet, a concert pianist. A weak child, Kellerman began swimming as physical therapy for a mild case of polio. Feeling more graceful in water than on land in her leg braces, swimming literally became her life. As the strength in her legs increased, she also learned to dive. In 1902 she won her first title as Swim Champion of New South Wales and set a world record of 78 seconds for 100 yards using the newly introduced racing technique of the double-over arm crawl and scissors kick. By her own admission, she also reigned as the champion girl diver of Australia the same year. The next year, she set a world record for the mile at 32:29 minutes, subsequently lowering it to 28:00 minutes. Her first of many record-setting distance swims covered 10 miles in Australia’s Yarrow River. She began professional swimming and diving exhibitions in Sydney, then toured Melbourne and Adelaide....

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Stebbins, Genevieve (07 March 1857–1914?), American Delsartean teacher and writer, was born in San Francisco, California, the daughter of James Cole Stebbins, a lawyer, and Henrietta Smith, who died when Genevieve was two years old. Stebbins was drawn to theatrical expression from an early age and performed pantomimes, songs, dances, and statue posing at family and public gatherings. In 1875 she moved to New York City to pursue a career in theater, first studying and touring with the actress ...