Several years ago an appeal was made in these columns for information on Mary Lines, a JAGS Old Girl who held, simultaneously, six athletics world records.
The compilers of the Oxford DNB tracked her history down and she now has a place in that famous publication:
When 84-year old Worthing pensioner Mrs Mary Smith died following a road accident in Worthing in December 1978, her death was reported under the headline ‘Woman killed’ (Worthing Herald 15 December 1978). An inquest in January 1979 heard that Mrs Smith, of Gerald Road, had gone out after dark to post her Christmas mail. She ‘trotted’ across George V Avenue in front of a car, which did not have time to stop. Her sister Blanche, a retired nurse, told the inquest that Mary was physically fit.
Nearly 70 years earlier, Mary Smith had been the world’s fastest woman sprinter. Running under her maiden name, Mary Lines, she had been among the pioneering party of British women who represented their country at the Women’s Olympiad held at Monte Carlo in Easter 1921. This was the first of a series of international competitions held during a period when the International Olympic Committee excluded women’s athletics from the Olympic Games.
As Mary Lines (1893–1978) she features among the lives to be included in the latest update to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. They are among a selection of new entries on significant figures in the history of Olympic sports in Britain. Writing in the dictionary, Mel Watman, former editor of Athletics Weekly and official historian of the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association, describes Mary Lines as ‘the first star of British women's athletics’,
Mary, who lived at Helix Road, Brixton Hill and attended gymnasium classes at the Regent Street Polytechnic (now the University of Westminster), took golds in the two sprint events and the long jump at Monte Carlo. The Polytechnic Magazine, which carried her photograph, called her ‘the heroine of the occasion’. Athletics statisticians rank her 11.8 seconds time in the 100 yards race at an international fixture at Paris in October 1921 as the fastest by a woman in that year.
After setting a succession of world records, Mary Lines retired from athletics in 1924. She married a man named Smith, but was widowed in 1947. Records in Worthing Reference Library suggest that she and her two unmarried sisters moved to Worthing in 1971.
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