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 Shirley May France

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Shirley May France

  • Birth 11 Aug 1932 Fall River, Bristol County, Massachusetts, USA
  • Death 18 Mar 2012 Fall River, Bristol County, Massachusetts, USA
  • Burial Somerset, Bristol County, Massachusetts, USA
  • Memorial ID 87379967

Athletic Folk Figure. A "long-stemmed blonde beauty", she was a noted long distance swimmer of the late 1940s who ironically is probably better remembered because her three attempts to swim the English Channel failed. Raised in Somerset, Massachusetts as part of an athletic family, she was beating men in long distance races by age 10 then at 14 successfully swam 33 miles across Michigan's Lake St. Clair and saw her first photoshoot appear in "Life" magazine. Crowned the unofficial women's long distance champion after being the only female among 15 finishers (out of 121 starters) of a 1948 race across Lake George, she unsuccessfully lobbied to have long distance swimming made an Olympic event. In 1949 Shirley May swam 14 miles from Lower Manhattan to Coney Island then set off for England amidst much publicity that a pretty young girl was going to brave the Channel, though contrary to reports of the time she had no intention of doing so in the nude. On September 6th she headed for Dover from Cap Gris-Nez, France wearing a suit with the logo 'Black Magic' to advertise an upcoming movie but 10 hours later and six miles from her goal had to be pulled from the water by rescuers. Shirley May came up short in two subsequent Channel tries but in the aftermath her 'failure' did not matter as she was honored with parades, feted by the rich and famous, sung to by Frank Sinatra, and inundated with marriage proposals. Still, the anticipated Hollywood contract never came to pass and after a time as a hat model in New York and a radio disc jockey in Massachusetts she briefly starred in a Providence, Rhode Island television series entitled "The Wife and I" then settled down to a life of working in her family's restaurant and raising her children. As time went on Shirley May taught swimming at the YWCA but spoke little of her brief moment in the limelight and discouraged her children from taking-up her sport; she lived her final years in a nursing facility and died after a protracted battle with cancer.


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  • Created by: Bob Hufford
  • Added: 26 Mar 2012
  • Find A Grave Memorial 87379967
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  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Shirley May France (11 Aug 1932–18 Mar 2012), Find A Grave Memorial no. 87379967, citing Gibbs Cemetery, Somerset, Bristol County, Massachusetts, USA ; Maintained by Bob Hufford (contributor 46784943) .