SeeHer Story airs every week on PEOPLE.com and @PeopleTV social handles

By Georgia Slater
July 17, 2020 05:00 AM
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Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman made a splash around the world with her groundbreaking swimwear choices and focus on female fitness.

To honor the late pioneer in sports and fashion, SeeHer Story has chosen to look back at her extraordinary life in this week’s episode.

Katie Couric Media and PEOPLE partnered to create the second season of SeeHer Story, a weekly digital video series created to celebrate various female trailblazers from the past 100 years to today.

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Born in 1886 in Marrickville, Australia, Kellerman found an interest in swimming at a young age after an illness left her with weak leg muscles.

By 16, she had broken the women's world record for both the 100-meter and the mile, and gained even more recognition for doing it in a men's one-piece bathing suit.

At the time, women were expected to wear the traditional Victorian swimming costume, a custom which Kellerman strived to reform.

In 1905, the athlete moved to England to pursue the sport and was one of the first women to attempt to swim the English Channel.

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She then began performing in "mermaid shows," popular productions that combined her aquatic skills with vaudeville.

"I was diving, dancing, and swimming my way in gala events across England," she said in an early clip.

As she gained recognition in the shows, Kellerman used the opportunity to promote her signature one-piece swimsuits and the idea of female fitness and body positivity.

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A few years later, in 1914, Kellerman launched her own swimwear line based on the men's one piece. It became so popular that a women's one-piece was simply referred to as an "Annette Kellerman."

Making a name for herself, she began to take on groundbreaking roles in Hollywood.

In 1916, she scored a role in A Daughter of the Gods, becoming the first actress to appear nude on-screen.

She continued to perform around the world into the 1940s, and was even featured in a water ballet at age 52.

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In 1951, Kellerman helped bring her life story to the big screen with the biopic Million Dollar Mermaid, which starred Esther Williams.

She eventually returned home to Australia, where she was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1974, one year before her death.

SeeHer Story will be a regular feature in PEOPLE’s print edition, the weekday morning newsletter Wake-Up Call with Katie Couric and on PeopleTV’s entertainment show, PEOPLE Now

"SeeHer Story celebrates the important contributions of bold women from the past 100 years who have changed our country forever,” said Couric in a statement. “We hope recognizing them and telling their stories will not only give them their due but will also inspire the next generation of leaders.”

She added, “Together with Meredith and PEOPLE, I’m so excited to bring back a second season of stories of women whose names you may know — and put those whose achievements are not as well-known — front and center so we can celebrate them as well.”