A Journal of Strength, Health, and Self Cultivation
Lillian Bearle, “the most perfect woman in the world,” as she posed for a series of articles on physical culture, circa 1912. Public domain photograph.
During the early 20th century, Professor Dudley A. Sargent of Harvard went on a quest to find “the most perfect woman in the world” for a series of magazine articles on physical culture. After taking measurements of thousands of women, he selected a swimmer by the name of Lillian Bearle as his top choice. Lillian was 23 years old at the time she was chosen by the professor, and she was from Boston, Massachusetts where she was born.
Lillian, whose stage name was La Diva, attributed her marvelous build to swimming. During an interview she once stated, “I took up swimming for my health. And, let me tell you swimming is the best exercise in the world to develop the body. If a woman wants to reduce or build up, let her learn to swim and work hard at it. Nature will do the rest.”
Lillian was one of nine sisters, all of whom took up swimming in the Atlantic ocean near the family home. Lillian once stated that the sisters had a tradition of swimming each morning in the Atlantic every since the oldest took to the water and propelled herself “dog fashion.”
Although all of the Bearle sisters became accomplished swimmers, Lillian was the best among them. As a competitor, she won numerous metals and cups, and she once swam a mile in 35 minutes during a race. She also had been acknowledged by John F. Conroy, a former swimming teacher and Carnegie medal winner, to be a quick study in the water. Conroy discovered this when he was teaching Lillian how to dive. She picked up the skill so quickly and with such consummate skill that the two of them were given a vaudeville offer. This offer marked the beginning of what would become a successful stage career for the talented young lady.