Ian McAllister, Grandson of 1920 Olympic Medallist, Hilda James, becomes “One in A Thousand”

Ian McAllister, the grandson of 1920 Olympic medalist and Hall of Fame pioneer swimmer Hilda James, has joined ISHOF’s “One in a Thousand campaign,” designed to help the hall prosper during the difficult financial times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Hall of Fame gave me a lot of help over several generations of Hall of Famers,” Ian McAllister said. “I was quite touched by the way Bruce approached it. When I brought the book over and before I applied to put her in the Hall of Fame, he showed us around the museum and he wouldn’t put the book down. I gave it to him and he carried it with him all the way around.


Ian McAllister accepting Hilda James’ induction. Photo Courtesy: International Swimming Hall of Fame

“The thing that made him the most passionate about the Hall of Fame was the pioneers of swimming. Until we had walked in, he had not know anything about Hilda. He said, ‘here is someone that should be here but has almost completely disappeared in history.’ It really struck me that my whole project with her book is a record to keep the story of swimming, if you like, in one place and I thought it was worth donating because of all the encouragement I had from them. I’m not a swimmer but I think it is important.”

James had put McAllister in charge of writing her biography when he was 12-years-old in the mid-1970s when she started living near his family after her husband passed away. He spent a lot of time with his grandmother on the countryside about 10 miles north of Liverpool where he learned of her story, how she only took up swimming because her family wouldn’t let her go to religious education lessons and was not encouraged to swim and shouldn’t aspire to be anything else than what her family already was.

“My wife and I went to Miami for a vacation a few years ago,” Ian McAllister said. “I phoned Bruce Wigo at the time and asked him if I could give him a copy of my book (on Hilda’s life) and we got a tour after hours in Fort Lauderdale. He got really excited about it and said I needed to start the process to get her in the Hall of Fame. It took a few years but it is a really exciting thing.”

Join the One in a Thousand Club by helping ISHOF on a monthly or one-time basis.

For larger corporate sponsorships and estate-planning donations, please contact us at customerservice@ishof.org.

Hilda James – 2016 Honor Pioneer Swimmer

Hilda James. Photo Courtesy: ISHOF Archives

To avoid attending Church of England religious education classes, which conflicted with her parents religious beliefs, this 11-year old Liverpudlian was assigned to swimming classes at the Garston Baths.

Five years later, Hilda James was Great Britain’s best female swimmer and left for the 1920 Olympic Games with high expectations. Unfortunately in Amsterdam, the USA women completely dominated, sweeping the gold, silver and bronze medals in the 100m and 300m freestyle, the only individual swimming events for women at the 1920 Games. And while the British did win silver medals in the 4x100m relay, they finished a full 30 seconds behind the Americans. The following day Hilda cheekily asked the American coach, Lou de B. Handley, to teach her the American Crawl.

In 1922, Hilda was invited by her American friends to visit the USA for the summer racing season. While she was still behind the American stars Helen Wainwright and Gertrude Ederle, she was closing the gap.

By 1924, Hilda James held every British and European freestyle record from 100 meters to the mile, and a handful of world records as well. She easily made the 1924 Olympic team, and it was widely believed that she would return from Paris with a handful of medals. When Hilda’s mother insisted she accompany her daughter as chaperone, and the British Olympic Committee refused to fund her tip, saying she needed to budget it herself. Hilda’s mother refused to let her go. Unfortunately, Hilda was not yet 21, legally a minor and under the care of her parents – and had to obey.

Hilda turned 21 shortly after the Olympic Games, gained her independence, and took a job with the Cunard Shipping Company, traveling the world as a celebrity spokesperson, at a time when women were just starting to gain their freedom.

We will never know how Hilda would have fared in the 1924 Olympic Games, but she was a trailblazer and one of Europe’s first female sports superstars who inspired future generations of girls to follow in her wake.

The United States and Great Britain won all of the women’s swimming medals at the 1924 Games in Paris, excluding Sweden’s bronze in the 4×100 free relay, the only relay contested at the Games nearly 100 years ago. To this day, it is believed James could have been a gold medalist had she competed against the likes of Ederle, Martha Norelius, the first woman to win back to back gold medals in swimming, and Britain’s lone gold medalist in the pool that year Lucy Morton. In 1925, James left amateur swimming for good.

Hilda James was officially inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame as a pioneer swimmer in 2016.

“I received a letter through the post that she had been selected for induction,” Ian McAllister said. “I was so excited, I couldn’t believe it. It was the pinnacle of the whole project. I wanted to leave a record for my son because he didn’t know Hilda and I was given the chance to place that record into the history which is beyond belief. It is wonderful.

The International Swimming Hall of Fame wants to know if you are one in a thousand?  We think you are! Show how special you are and become a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame’s “One In A Thousand” Club.  Help keep the International Swimming Hall of Fame moving forward toward a new vision and museum by joining now!

During these unprecedented times, the ISHOF Board is calling on every member in the aquatic community to make a small monthly commitment of support to show how special you are and how special the International Swimming Hall of Fame is to everyone.

Our goal is simple. If we get 1,000 people to simply commit $10, $25 or $50 per month, we will generate enough revenue to go beyond this Covid-19 Pandemic Crisis.” – Bill Kent – Chairman of the ISHOF Board

Those that believe in our vision, mission, and goals can join us in taking ISHOF into the future and be a part of aquatic history.”  – Brent Rutemiller – CEO and President of ISHOF

Since 1965, ISHOF has been the global focal point for recording and sharing the history of aquatics, promoting swimming as an essential life-skill, and developing educational programs and events related to water sports. ISHOF’s vision for the future is to build a new museum and expand its reach by offering its museum artifacts digitally through a redesigned website.

The ISHOF Board of Directors is calling on all members of the aquatics community to make a small monthly commitment to show their dedication to aquatics and how special the International Swimming Hall of Fame is to everyone.

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