Claire Galligan (USA)
Honor Swimmer (1970)
FOR THE RECORD: WORLD RECORDS: 500m freestyle; U.S. NATIONAL AAU CHAMPIONSHIPS: 13 (including 220yd, 500yd, quarter-mile, half-mile, 1 mile, 3 mile; First AAU Women’s National Champion – 1916; Charter member swimmer of New York Women’s Swimming Association.
Claire Galligan was the first U.S. AAU Women’s National Champion. She won the 500 freestyle on March 31, 1916 in New York City.
Claire won her first race on the 4th of July, 1915 in New Rochelle, New Jersey. She swam for the Women’s Life Saving League with coaches Johnny Curran and Jim Riley, then joined New York’s Women’s Swimming Association as a charter member when that celebrated club was formed in 1916. She was the first of many champions coached by Hall of Famer L. de B. Handley. Other USA swimmers in the Hall of Fame include Ethelda Bleibtrey, Aileen Riggin, Martha Norelius, Eleanor Holm and Gertrude Ederle.
Miss Galligan won her first national in New York City in a time of 8:05.4. She owned the distance in this country. On September 13, 1917, she set a world record of 7:31.4 at Idor Park, California, besting by a second the mark held by the first Women’s Olympic champion, Australian Fanny Durack. Miss Galligan was the first U.S. female invited abroad when Hall of Famers Durack and Galligan swam it off the following year in Adelaide, Australia, with Fanny winning back her record. It stayed in Australia until Gertrude Ederle, brought it back to the U.S.A. in 1922.
Claire Galligan won 13 U.S. Nationals when winning U.S. Nationals meant tough cross-country travel just to get to the water. In those early years of AAU swimming, national events were distributed around the country to highlight local meets on successive weekends throughout the year. Claire’s championships won over a three-year period were 500s in New York City, Idora Park and Detroit. She also won the mile at Neptune Beach, California, and Rye Beach, New York. Her 3 mile national long distance crown was won in St. Louis. Her quarter-mile championships were in Chicago and Brighton Beach, New York. Half-mile crowns were won at Ocean Park, California and Belmar, New Jersey, and her 220 (furlong) wins took her to Atlantic City and Brooklyn.
Claire Galligan was the first and one of the greatest of L. de B’s W.S.A. Champions but ironically, she never reached the Olympics. The 1916 Olympic Games were cancelled by war and Miss Galligan had retired to become Mrs. Finney by the 1920 Games.