Ellen Fullard-Leo (USA)
Honor Contributor (1974)
FOR THE RECORD: Organized first women’s swim clubs in Capetown, South Africa; Victoria, British Columbia; and Honolulu, Hawaii; started the Royal Life Saving Course; Representative to 1921 AAU Executive Committee (first women delegate); In 1921 helped launch the U.S. Olympic Association; Manager-Chaperone for swimming trips to Australia, Olympics and Nationals, raising money for the athletes to attend.
“Ma Leo” was the grand dame of Hawaiian swimming for more than half of her 90 years. She was not a “women’s libber” but it could have come naturally. Born in Capetown, South Africa, she was the youngest of 19 children (17 were brothers). “I had to fight for women’s rights,” she said, “just to hold my own at the breakfast table.” There were also 11 step-children so “Ma Leo” also came naturally by her success in handling large fractious groups of energetic children, something she did so well and for so long in amateur athletics as the primary organizing authority in Hawaiian AAU.
Still in Capetown, she married Leslie Fullard-Leo in 1908. They moved to New York, “Mother City” of the AAU in 1909, then on to Victoria, British Columbia in 1912. In 1915, on her way to Australia she visited Honolulu and decided to stay. In all three places, Capetown, Victoria and Honolulu, she organized their first women’s swim clubs and started the Royal Life Saving Course. The Fullard-Leos bought a home site on Waikiki from Prince Kuhio. “Ma Leo” introduced Royal Life Saving Classes to the Islands in 1917. With their great Nui Lani, it was natural for the Hawaiians to take to leadership from females, so Ellen Fullard-Leo was elected their representative to the 1921 AAU Executive Committee meetings in Chicago. She sent in her credentials and they were accepted. The only problem was that on arrival the delegate bearing the name E. B. Fullard-Leo turned out to be a woman, the first woman delegate in AAU Convention history. “One man grumbled that he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to smoke during the meetings. I put him at rest by explaining I was used to my husband’s pipe and tobacco.”
In that same year (1921) she helped launch the U.S. Olympic Association. In 1922, the Fullard-Leo’s had their Mid-Pacific Palmyra Island annexed to her adopted country the United States. The island was an important Naval Station in World War II.
Whether marching in Olympic parades, organizing the first women’s swim clubs in South Africa, Canada and Hawaii, or organizing the Pan Pacific Games and the Hawaiian AAU, “Ma Leo” has been a prime force in Amateur Athletics for 65 years. Her oldest of three sons, under the stage name Leslie Vincent, played featured and supporting roles in more than 100 Hollywood movies before returning to Honolulu to manage and develop the Fullard-Leo holdings.
Mrs. E. Fullard-Leo got involved in amateur athletics “because her husband was a great athlete and not because she was a tomboy,” says Hal Wood, sports Editor of the Honolulu Advertiser. “I grew up in the Victorian age when it was considered vulgar for young ladies to compete in athletics,” she once told him. “So of course I didn’t compete, although I knew how to swim.” “Ma Leo” never limited her interests to swimming. It followed that she was the manager-chaperone for swimming trips to Australia, various Olympics and Nationals on the mainland. It cost money to send Hawaiian athletes to Nationals in New York and Chicago, so she raised the money. She also raised the money for the Hawaiian lava waterfall in the entrance-way at the International Hall of Fame where she was one of the first individual Charter members. After she died in October, 1974 her ashes were spread from a surfboard off Waikiki in an ancient Hawaiian burial. No mermaid Haole ever deserved the honor more.