When the Internet became popular in the late 1980s, there were heated debates on forums and blogs about mid- and early 20th-century customs that required all boys participating in swimming activities to do so naked.
was required, while all girls were allowed to wear it.
But the power of the Internet also brought with it the ability to research archives and news sources, and it was through that research that those now educating themselves unanimously agreed that this was indeed a common practice.
The acknowledgment of the need for only boys to swim naked during this era has to be seen in context.
As evidenced in the archives of earlier times presented on this site, it was common for men and boys to swim, or rather, “bathing in the sea” among amateurs from the early 1700s to the early 1800s.
which the rail system had started allowing.
The public to vacation at popular water spots.
Yet for boys, skinny dipping remained the norm in the 20th century for swimming in rivers and lakes.
When such activities were carried out indoors in an all-male environment, it was only logical that suits were not necessary given the tradition.
Adding to this tradition were the Great Depression and two world wars.
During the Depression, swimsuits were a luxury item that low-income families bought only for girls.
According to Neil Gale, PhD, a few months after the US entered World War II, the L-85 regulation was enacted.
This mandated the minimum use of cloth for clothing as it was required for war materials.
It also stopped selling domestic sewing machines.
During that time it became patriotic for men and boys to swim naked.
A review of the camp’s archives shows that nude swimming in the camp became almost universal during World War II.
However, sanitation and convenience were recognized and nude swimming in camps continued into the 1960s, beginning to fade in the mid-1950s.
For these and other reasons, the practice of men swimming naked was considered “masculine”, while men avoided the use of suits even when available.
But this was not a new trend; Rather, an extension of a trend that can be traced throughout the 19th century and earlier.
As it pertains to the practice of nude swimming for boys and youth in public schools, municipal pools and athletic centers such as boys’ clubs and the YMCA, nude swimming was compulsory for decades.
To understand the reasons, look at not only customary trends, but also the development of certain technologies, economic realities, and a social trend toward greater gender equality.
In the following decades, Wai began offering its “Learn-to-Swim” classes, an organized program featuring certified instructors.
It should be noted that after illness, drowning was the leading cause of death for children and adolescents during this formative period, so it should come as no surprise that enrollment was often popular with classes filled to capacity.
It is also important to note that they became a major source of sustainable revenue for Pool Y.
But in 1906, Edwin Foster, a Northwestern Medical School graduate working at the YMCA, tested the water and found it to be contaminated.
At that time, water contamination was linked to many life-threatening diseases such as cholera, typhoid, meningitis, polio, and various infections.
In fact, like the Kovid epidemic of 2020, deadly epidemics also closed many cities.
So the discovery of pathogens in pool water in Y caused great concern – not only for health reasons, but as a threat to one of Y’s biggest revenue generators.
Gail writes of the hot that the YMCA, as well as other public pools, began to refill and refill the pool once a week to fight the problem, and this process dates back to well into the 1920s.
Some of these pools were as large as 45,000 gallons, making the process difficult and expensive.
The YMCA National Council also recommended the use of sand filters, which proved to be effective.
By 1910 the first pool recirculating pumps were installed and by 1913 chlorine chemicals were being added to the water.
Part of the issue of swimsuits during that era was that synthetic fibers had not yet been discovered, so suits were usually made of wool or cotton.
These fabrics slowly decompose over time, leaving fibers that constantly clog these newly developed filtration systems (see lint filters after loading cotton fabrics, for example.) Also , as long as they are not washed properly, swimsuits can also carry the same.
pathogens that were of concern.
Maintaining a large supply of swimsuits that were properly cleaned and stored was challenging not only logistically, but also financially.
In 1926, the American Public Health Association (APHA) published the first guidelines for swimming pool management.
These guidelines were updated every one to three years as needed.
Those guidelines recommended that all men first bathe naked with soap, then be completely naked while swimming.
Ornate, unpainted tank suits were recommended for women.
The APHA pool management guidelines were not intended to promote nude swimming, but instead, were meant to keep the pool clean and meant to keep the water disinfected, which was best accomplished by prohibiting the use of swimsuits.
As a result, male nude swimming was recommended in every edition until 1962.
APHA guidelines at the state level as well as health ordinances were generally guided by physicians, sports professionals and water sanitation experts; Thus, their recommended safe practices were codified into mandates by nearly every public school, municipality, and youth union.
It should be noted that throughout the ages, women were always provided with swimsuits.
However, the disparity of required swimming apparel between the sexes has never been discussed in any literature or published guidelines.
This is a testament to how the modesty of women was an important part of the culture at that time, whereas modesty was not considered for men.
Mandatory bathing and full nudity resulted in some interesting design techniques.
During an NPR radio interview, a reporter told me about an infamous shower appliance, described by a man who attended a Chicago school during that era, called a “ball washer,” And he asked me if I knew of water appliances that are designed for washing.
I told him that my research did not find anything like this.
A research associate, O.
Capora then sent me the following picture showing the plumbing arrangement of these “ball washers”.
According to the person who used it, the boys would stand in line naked and then down the “shower runway” to receive a powerful spray of water not only from the sides, but also from below on the genitals and anal area.
During the early 20th century, it was difficult to use chlorine effectively because the management of pH had to be precise enough to kill bacteria.
In 1939 a discovery came in what was called a “breakpoint in the chlorination of water,” a chemical test then few pool managers could do more easily.
But due to the start of WWII, automatic chlorination was not widely used until the late 1940s.
In the early 1960s several things came together, reducing the need for a mandatory nudity rule.
Urban sprawl meant that most people swam in pools as opposed to polluted water, automatic chlorination was controlling levels of pathogens, most swimsuits were being made from synthetic fibers, polio was conquered and medical professionals had There were now curative drugs that could stop the outbreak of diseases.
Because of pool water.
Thus, in 1962 the APHA finally dropped the recommendation for nude swimming as it was no longer there for health reasons.
This is an important event because it underscores the real and justifiable reasons that male nude swimming was mandatory for more than half a century.
But despite APHA dropping health guidelines and there were no longer health reasons for mandatory nude male swimming, public schools and Y continued to require nude swimming into the 1970s and some into the 1980s.
Research suggests the reasons were two-fold.
First, as most people know, bureaucratic institutions are resistant to change, even when there are no reasons for continued practice.
“It’s the way it’s always been done” There was a very common reason cited by the coaches and administrative staff of the time.
Second, news articles show that several education boards ruled that nude male swimming should be continued for no health reasons, only because of the cost of providing and cleaning swimsuits for boys in school districts, which By the way, they had been doing it for girls for decades.
Again, gender equality was not a concern in the early 1960s, and the common belief was that boys should “buck up” and be masculine about it (for further research, please see Dear Abby and N.
See published news articles and syndicated columns of Landers posted elsewhere on this site).
One such article appeared in the 1961 edition of the Appleton Post.
It dealt with a petition from parents demanding that the policy for all boys to swim naked be dropped.
As part of the debate, the school district conducted a survey of other public schools, which revealed that 20 out of 31 school districts had policies requiring boys to swim naked while girls did not.
With the survey in hand, the school board ruled that the nudity policy for boys would remain in effect.
This survey provides some evidence that nearly two-thirds of all swimming programs still implemented nudity policies for boys’ swim classes in 1961.
The timeline of the slow end of rules regarding mandatory nude swimming for men coincides with the timeline of the strong feminist movement of the 1960s.
The movement brought more mixed-gender swimming to public pools, while new federal laws opened the doors to many athletic programs for women.
As a result of these laws, women journalists also got access to men’s locker rooms.
As part of the cultural trend toward equality, bureaucrats and institutions began to lose their battles to maintain the unequal second-class policies they had used for decades, and by the mid-1980s, the last few of the practice The remains are gone.
To learn more about this topic, certified news articles, magazines, historical books, photographs and syndicated columns presented on the pages of this website provide more details.
What you will find in your research is that although some practices may be generalized to the subject era, there were often discrepancies in how the rules were administered, depending on where in the timeline one was looking.
is, what region/country is being considered, and, the differences between philosophies and processes between different institutions.
For example, one can find indisputable evidence that boys are required to swim naked during family nights or sporting events until their early teens, including female siblings (please link to this site).
Watch the 1939 Freden Scout Meet video to see the boys with their teens, including women their age, undressing naked in front of the audience bleachers).
Still in other institutions, female attendance was not permitted, while boys swam naked.
We are always on the lookout for more historical insight.
should you have any authenticated We would greatly appreciate your emailing us any historical references, materials or links that would have helped us create this historical review.
Three-part documentary on the YMCA and the history of boys swimming naked in public schools
The following three part video is a YouTube documentary compiled by a historian who has done extensive documentation research into policy requiring boys to swim naked in schools and organizations such as the YMCA.
It presents a lot of factual information, is highly educational and very well done.
It is best to watch these videos as the articles and other documents presented in our sub-pages will be more meaningful to the scholarly audience.