Her life, her fight, her legacy
Born on May 5, 1884 in Nantes and died on May 19, 1957 in Paris, Alice Milliat was the first international leader of women's sport. She was a sportive woman, she practiced rowing at a high level and tried her hand at swimming and field hockey.
She became President of the Femina-Sport club in 1915 and was one of the founders of the Fédération des Sociétés Féminines Sportives de France (a former Federation bringing together female sports clubs) in 1917. She became President in 1919. Faced with intertia of sports federations to include women in the sports' world, Alice Milliat thought bigger and founded the International Women's Sports Federation in 1921.
"Women's sport has its place in social life in the same way as men's sport" Alice Milliat, May 15, 1917
Women participation in the Olympic Games was her greatest fight. In face of the multiple refusals of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to include them into competitions, she decided to organize women's competitions. The first international women's meeting was held in Monte Carlo in 1921 and the first edition of the Women's World Games in Paris in 1922, called at that time the Women's Olympic Games. Four other World Games were organized between 1926 and 1934. In London in 1934, the event attracted more than 6,000 spectators every day.
The sucess of these "Women's Olympic Games" is such that the IOC finally allows women to compete in the modern Olympism's king sport: athletics. The first female athletes took part to the competitions from the Olympic Games in Amsterdam in 1928. Alice Milliat was invited to be a member of the jury; the only woman surrounded by many male leaders.
Although the IOC agreed to organize women's competitions, it also took the opportunity to put them under the supervision of federations led by men. For example, the International Women's Sports Federation was absorbed by the International Athletics Federations and died out. Alice Milliat then retired but left us a deep legacy, founder of women's sport.
ALICE MILLIAT FOUNDATION
Alice Milliat, member of the jury for the athletics events at the Olympic Games in Amsterdam, 1928
A recognition step by step
"To create what she created by being a provincial and young woman from a modest background, she had to have quite a temper!"
Florence Carpentier, sports historian
In the light of her fight, Alice Milliat still remains a figure too little known in the history of sport. Some French cities and towns pay tribute to her in their own way, by naming streets or gymnasiums after her (Nantes, Bordeaux, Sainte Luce sur Loire...). The Department of Loire-Atlantique has now a "Maison des Sports - Alice Milliat", a strong symbol for the recognition of this woman, as a great player in the sport's history.
La Maison des Sports Alice Milliat, Nantes © Paul Pascal