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Esther Jane Williams. Full-length portrait, seated, wearing a bathing suit, 1945. Photographic print. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-137503).


Williams, Esther Jane (08 August 1921–06 June 2013), movie star, swimming champion, and swimwear executive, was born in a small bungalow in Inglewood, a southwest suburb of Los Angeles, the fifth child born to Bula Myrtle Gilpin, a teacher, and Louis Stanton Williams, a sign painter. The family had followed her brother Stanton to Hollywood from Utah, and he appeared as a child star in silent pictures. Esther's mother took no interest in her, and she was raised by older sister Maurine, who taught her to swim. When Esther was eight years old, Stanton died from a burst colon. She hoped to replace his achievements with her own. At age eleven, Esther won a fifty-meter freestyle race at the Olympic Swim Stadium in Los Angeles. When she was sixteen she began swimming for the Los Angeles Athletic Club. During her teens she was repeatedly raped by an orphaned boy her parents had taken into their house. The water became her sanctuary....