1954 November 30

National Swimming Star Dies of Illegal Abortion


Virginia Hopkins Watson, a famed national swimming star, died on this day in Los Angeles of an illegal abortion. Her death received national publicity in part because of her celebrity status but also because of rising public awareness (and news media coverage) of the large number of illegal abortions in the U.S.

Under her maiden name, Virginia Hopkins  had gained fame as one of the Hopkins twins, along with her sister Marion. She and her sister had joined Esther Williams (later a top Hollywood star) in the 1939 women’s 400 meter relay team that set the world’s record. In 1938 she had set the world’s  record in the women’s 50 meters race.

Virginia also sought a career in the movies, and chose an abortion because she believed having a child would interfere with her film career. She explained this to her husband, Arthur Watson, as she lay dying (the abortion had occurred 12 days before her death). Her husband had not known she was pregnant.

At the time of her death she was 32 years old and was a swimming instructor at the Hollywood Athletic Club.

Follow a timeline on abortion rights: http://www.prochoice.org/about_abortion/history_abortion.html

Learn more about women’s swimming and diving today: http://www.ncaa.com/sports/swimming-women/d1

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