Who was Alice Milliat, French pioneer of Women's Olympic Games?

Born in 1884 in the western French city of Nantes, Alice Milliat was a keen rower and swimmer who, in 1922, established the Women’s Olympic Games in Paris. Just over 100 years later, this summer’s Games will be the first to see the same number of women athletes as men compete.

As a young woman, Milliat – born Alice Million, to working-class parents – spent time in England, where she married Joseph Milliat, who was also from Nantes.

While there, Milliat took up rowing. After her husband's death in 1908, she travelled widely, honing language skills that allowed her to become a translator.

When World War I broke out, she returned to France.

In 1915, she took charge of Fémina Sport, a women’s sports club in Paris, where she was a keen rower.

Stéphane Gachet, Milliat’s biographer, says the war had created a unique opening for women – because “men had freed up their places in homes, in factories and on sports fields”.

But, it was still difficult for women to enter sports competitions, which went against the norms imposed by religion and even certain doctors at the beginning of the 20th century.

“A woman was not to undress or expose herself in public. She absolutely had to preserve herself. Her only goal was to have children,” Gachet told RFI.

Women in charge

While sportswomen were first admitted to the Olympics in 1900, they were confined to so-called feminine events: tennis, sailing, croquet, horse riding, but certainly not track and field.

With her enterprising spirit, Milliat believed that to change things, women's clubs must be led by women.

Read more on RFI English

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