Let’s have a swatch at the extraordinary achievements of athlete Belle Moore, a woman we should definitely be making more noise about. Isabella Mary Moore, the eighth of nine children, was born on the 23rd October 1894 and died on the 7th of March 1975. Known as Belle Moore or by her married name Belle Cameron, Belle represented Britain at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, the first Olympics which women’s swimming was permitted, and alongside her teammates Jennie Fletcher, Annie Speirs and Irene Steer, she won a gold medal in the women’s 4 x 100 metre freestyle relay, setting a new world record in the process. Incredibly, Moore achieved all this at just 17 years and 226 days old. She is still the youngest British woman to win an Olympic gold medal and is the only Scottish woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming.
Moore was from Govan and learnt to swim after Glasgow City Corporation made it mandatory for all school children. At 17 she was already working as a swimming instructor when she was scouted in the search for a women’s swimming team Britain could send to the 1912 Olympics. Moore actually trained as a longer-distance swimmer, but unfortunately, only 100-metre swimming events were available for women at the 1912 Olympics and she was eliminated in the semi-finals of the women’s 100-metre freestyle. Any longer distances were thought to be too challenging to the female physique. Britain was actually fairly liberated for the time, America refused to send a female team of swimmers, as officials there believed that a woman should not appear in public in a state of undress. Belle Moore and her teammates wore scandalously short woollen swimsuits with completely bare arms.
Belle Moore returned to Glasgow with relatively little fanfare, but kept swimming, breaking the 200m record in 1913.
In 1919, she married George Cameron, a naval architect. They emigrated to Maryland, United States, where Moore gave birth to a daughter, Doris, and son, George. She spent the rest of her life in Maryland where she taught swimming to thousands of children and was posthumously inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame as an “Honor Pioneer Swimmer” in 1989.
In an interview with the Daily Record given in 2012 her American step-grandson Kenneth Heeter, then 76, said: “She swam right up until the end. The week before she died she gave a demonstration at the Young Women’s Christian Association. She was 80 then but was a great believer in swimming and taught girls all her life.”
“When I was a little boy, I was asked to interview someone as an assignment for school and I chose Belle – she was by far the most interesting person I had met. I remember I got an A for that project and I kept it for years.”
“She was a lovely person and so was her husband George. In Baltimore, we have two tunnels that go underneath the harbour and he was very instrumental in getting the original one put in place.”
Moore taught hundreds of youngsters how to swim before she died in 1975 aged 80, even giving a demonstration at the Young Women’s Christian Association one week before she passed away, her lasting legacy is well remembered in Baltimore but should be better known here, she’s a fantastic role model for any girls who want to get into sport.
We’ll be talking about other great Glaswegian women like Belle on 8th August at House for an Art Lover. It’s sold out unfortunately but catch it again on the 15th of September at St. Andrews in the Square as part of the Doors Open Day Festival 2017. Tickets haven’t been released yet but keep an eye on the website to book up.