Truth - By the time a kid got to the diving board, his weenie would have been tiny. Secondly, the towel weighs too much and would never stay in place. Every guy knows this is 100% true.
Claim - There was a chemical added to the pool water, so if a kid urinates, a red (or you pick a color) stream was visible in the water, so everybody knew who was peeing.
Truth - There is NO chemical that changes color when someone urinates in a swimming pool. Some dyes could cloud, change color, or produce color in response to urine pH levels in the water, but not a stream of color from an individual while peeing in a pool. These chemicals would also be activated by other compounds, producing false positives.
Claim - Boys swam nude because the teacher(s) were perverts.
Truth - Read the article!
Swimming pools were introduced in the U.S. by the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in the 1880s. In the following 25 years, those pools became major sources of sustainable revenue. Boys drowning was the second leading cause of death, before age 16, after disease. The Y offered both organized lessons and taught the fastest stroke possible, verified by the Olympics, the crawl stroke. In that pre-TV era, being the fastest was a big part of social entertainment.
In 1906, the standard YMCA pool procedure was to drain and refill the pool once a week. (This actually continued into the 1920s. In one case, in Spartanburg, SC, the 45,000-gallon pool was emptied and refilled twice a week into the 1920s.) In most cases, the men and boys swam naked, just as they had in rivers and farm ponds.
The YMCA National Council recommended the use of sand filters, which were known to be effective. What's available in the literature shows that by 1910 the first pool recirculating pump was installed, and by 1913, chlorine chemicals were being added to the water. (The Federal government was just beginning to require chlorination of public water.)
In 1926, the American Public Health Association published the first guidelines for swimming pool management. These guidelines were updated every one to three years, as needed. Those guidelines recommended that males swim separately, take a soap shower, and swim nude. Unadorned, undyed tank suits were recommended for females.
The APHA pool management guidelines were not about nude swimming but about sanitary pools, which meant disinfecting the water. Consequently, male nude swimming was recommended in every edition until 1962. When one studies the APHA guidelines and those issued by other states, such as by the State of Illinois in 1948, (where they flatly state that sanitation is best preserved if people are separated by gender and swim nude. That came from fourteen of the best swim coaches, sports physicians, sports professors, and water sanitation specialists the State could put on a board.)
Chlorine was difficult to use effectively because pH had to be managed in addition to having enough chlorine to kill bacteria. It was not discovered in 1939 what was called the breakpoint in water chlorination. It was then possible to make chemical tests that pool managers could use. However, WW II intervened, and the equipment for automatic chlorination was unavailable until the late 1940s.
In 1948 and 1956, the Boys Club Operations manual required and recommended that boys swim nude. The YMCA and Boys Club Operations manual both stated it was incumbent upon the boards of directors to abide by the state and American Public Health Association guidelines.
The public school boards responsible for schools with pools also had to abide by the state public health and APHA pool management guidelines. That's why we swam nude in school pools.
By the way, pool filters get clogged with fabric fibers even today. (Case-in-point: put a load of shirts in a clothes dryer after cleaning the lint filter. After they are dry, check how much lint is in the lint filter.) It wasn't until the late 60s or early 70s that nylon suits became widely available. However, the fibers clogging the pool filter were only part of the story. The Public Health officials wanted to avoid telling all swimmers that their swimsuits were probably contaminated by polluted water from their last swim at the beach or outdoor bathing place. As corroboration, recall that they used to have laundry tubs of chemicals you were to drag your suit through and then rinse when you swam at a co-ed city pool.
Girls were lent swimsuits because pool filters would get clogged with fabric fibers. Secondly, girls' suits were sterilized with safe chemicals that left no residue in the fabric to affect the pool water. Boys were never lent swimsuits. It was swimming nude or bringing your own swimsuit.
The 1948 State of Illinois Public Health Association pool management guidelines state specifically that to preserve female modesty, they could wear unadorned, undyed tank suits after they took a nude soap shower. That's why females wore suits.
By 1962, most Americans lived in the suburbs, and most boys (who did most of the swimming), did not swim in polluted outdoor water but swam in city pools. Automatic chlorination was controllable to adjust for contamination in pools. Medicine had conquered Polio, and the medical profession was confident curative medicines could stop outbreaks of any disease that might be transmitted by pool water. Also, in 1962, there was no public outcry to end male nude swimming and no feminist pressure.
In 1962, the American Public Health Association dropped the nude swimming recommendation because it was no longer needed to preserve public health. This insight is important because it underscores why male nude swimming was recommended and required for more than 50 years. The Y and schools continued nude swimming into the 70s, and in a few schools, into the 80s.
So many people today do not know about the era of nude swimming. After mentioning swimming naked in High School to people in “you won’t believe me… but” conversations, people thought it was creepy or that the instructors were pedophiles. Records show a few were good decent men, but the vast majority of the thousands worked with boys as swimming teachers, coaches, or lifeguards. Naked swimming was just the way it was. It was seldom sprung on the class as a surprise. Typically, the students knew from a year or two before that they would swim naked when they reached that point.
It wasn't an urban legend but a normal part of life in a different and more self-confident time.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.
Fascinating article. The times were definitely different. I'm not entirely sure you could "sell" gender-separated nude swimming today, even if it was still needful for sanitation and safety. In Japan, by contrast, gender-separated nude bathing in "onsen" is still quite popular and socially acceptable. I would suggest that it is just a difference in cultures.ReplyDelete
During the summers in the 50's there were swim classes for boys at Wright Junior College where I learned to swim. After showering we walked into pool area single file where on of the "lifeguards" would check to see that we actually washed. One test was to rub a finger on our skin to see if any dirt rubbed off (sort of like an eraser) - use you imagination on the how the test was conducted. The test was conducted after we stepped through a pan of what I assumed was chlorine. I thought the test was weird then and thinking about it now it seems even weirder.ReplyDelete
I remember that at the Linciln ave. YMCA and at Lane Tech.Delete
WE did it at RBHSReplyDelete
Yep! Boys had to swim nude at Glenbrook North High School from the 1961 to 1965 when I was there. Girls wore tank suits. Women gym teachers and swim coaches used to sit in the bleachers above and watch the boys once in a while.ReplyDelete
Rather sexist making girls wear tank suits whilst the boys were made to swim nude.Delete
Your 'public health issue' argument is slightly lacking. If it wasn't sexist why couldn't the boys wear "Unadorned, undyed tank suits"? It wasn't for health reasons, it was for modesty reasons for the girls. How could be OK for girls but a health issue for boys?Delete
If I recall correctly, for a number of years, girls swam nude as well. I don't know specifically about Illinois, but you can still google around and findarticles from the 50s and 60s talking about the change there, too.Delete
There is sexism involved here. It's why the swimsuits popped up in the 1800s in the first place. But there were also health issues. It not plain and simple either way, but shifting levels of importance over 100 years.
Very interesting ! I was a last class in middle school 1981 Pittsburgh swimming naked with the guys. Never knew why till now! But all, that are younger than me loose their minds when they her about it . Thank you for the information.Delete
I too am a guy that went to Glenbrook North H.S. from 1965 to 1969 and we swam naked in gym class.Delete
When I was an exchange student at Glenbrook North HS in 1982, we boys still had to swim naked.Delete
All true. In high school, After questioning why, I remember being told it was for sanitary reasons. In 1971, I joined the swim team and refused to swim like that any more. To me it made no sense to swim nude in gym class and be allowed to wear trunks in practice in the same day. The girls wore plain tank suits that were washed and shared. They were flimsy and didn't leave very much to the imagination when wet. (I was a lifeguard too so I was allowed to assist the teachers with the girls swim classes)ReplyDelete
My first time when I was seven at the "Y" in St Petersburg,Florida. Also Lane and Wright Jr.ReplyDelete
I wanted to learn to swim circa 1952.Age 8. My grandmother flipped when she learned the local Y had boys swimming naked in class. We boys I would say enjoyed being naked if we could pick our friends, but felt funny about doing it in front of classmates.ReplyDelete
I attended Jr. High School in Freeport, Ill back in the late 1960's. The boys swim classes were always in the nude and we never thought anything of it. As I was never a fan of swimwear, at least according to my Mother, even as a small child I hated wet pants, so even at home with the "Kiddie Pool", I was happiest wear just a smile. Since then I have been a card carrying nudist for well over 30 years. Living on a farm, out in the country, skinny dipping in our own pond is a common practice.ReplyDelete
Like you, I too (then age 8) along with my younger Brother (then age 5 1/2) lived on a secluded farm where we went skinny-dipping supervised by our Dad. Great fun for both of us as we loved going naked. Occasionally several of the local neighborhood boys would also skinny-dip with us, some of whom were early teens in puberty. This was quite an eyeopener for us (no pun intended) because prior to that we had never seen boys that much older than us (or adult men for that matter) with pubic hair. All in all, those days were a healthy educational experience for both of us. It's a shame that society in America today have become such prudes. I truly believe that there should be clothing optional beaches at every Lake in every State Park throughout the U.S.Delete
I remember swimming nude in the 1970s, and had no problems with it.ReplyDelete
When I was in Jr. High/Middle School in 1971-74 we had pool as a phys ed and the boys swam nude. It didn't seem weird and was fine until you pissed off someone in the pool and they tried to grab at your genitals to cause you pain...then it was not so fun. Oh, this was in NY State.ReplyDelete
I swam nude at Senn High school in 1964. The Girls had one piece suits when it was their turn. I only did it once as everyone was tested to see if they could swim. Only the ones that couldn't swim had to take swim lessons and they still had to swim nude.ReplyDelete
Same thing with me at Senn in 1964. Tested the first day and no more swimming. However, there was a person who did take a test for someone who didn't know how to swim. The coaches didn't know anyone the 1st day, so it worked.Delete
I swam naked at WLHS from 1966-1970, and so did my brothers before and after me. Girls wore tank suits.ReplyDelete
I was about 11 years old at the time. One day my Mom came up to me and said, "I signed you up for swimming at the YMCA.” “OK,"I said. She told me that my cousin would be going with me. He is the same age as I am. It sounded like it would be a lot of fun. So when the day came we picked up my cousin and my aunt. They dropped us off and told us they would be back later in the afternoon when it was over. We went down into the locker room to change into our bathing suits but the life guard said. “You don’t need a bathing suit. We swim in the nude.” "WHAT!" I looked at my cousin. We didn't want to go naked into the pool with all the other guys. But our Moms wouldn't be back until much later in the afternoon when our swimming period was over with. We had no choice. Other than taking a bath, I had never been naked in the water before. I got in the pool and it really felt neat but I didn’t like being with all these other naked boys swimming around the pool in the nude. I finally got used to it and just swam around naked the rest of the afternoon. We talked with some other guys and asked them if the girls swam naked when they had the girls swim period but nobody knew. We had to find out.
Our Moms Sent us Swimming Naked at the YMCA
When our Moms picked us up later that afternoon we told them, "We Were Swimming Naked." We told them that they don't allow you to wear bathing suits. Well our Moms started laughing out loud when they heard that. They thought it was great. I didn't want to go back but my cousin did. So Mom said, "There's nothing wrong with swimming naked. You should just forget that your naked and enjoy the water. Everybody else is swimming naked so don't worry about it." “OK,” I told Mom and I continued to go. One day when we got to the YMCA a little early, the girls were still swimming. We had to find out if the girls swam naked too so one of the guys found a back way down into the pool area to see if the girls were naked. We waited breathlessly for this guy to report back to us. When he came back he told us, “They’re wearing bathing suits.” Our hearts sank. We wondered why we swam naked but the girls didn’t. I went with my cousin a few more times and then I told Mom, “I like being naked but I don’t like being naked with a bunch of guys. I don't want to go anymore,” I told her. “OK, you don’t have to if you don’t want too.” I thought it was so cool being naked though
We boys always swam nude at the Boys Club in Washington D.C. from 1955 until I stopped going in the 60s. I started around age 8. It never seemed strange. That was just the normal way to swim.ReplyDelete
I've been told that the Senators and Congressmen also swam nude at their US Capital pool.
In cook county Illinois, TTHS specifically, we had to swim nude two different years, 2nd and 3rd year. After the first year I dropped out of school due to this. Now, I'm a nudist! Go figure...ReplyDelete
In cook county Illinois, TTHS specifically, we had to swim nude two different years, 2nd and 3rd year. After the first year I dropped out of school due to this. Now, I'm a nudist! Go figure... 1975ReplyDelete
Anonymous: The reason you are a nudist now is because you are more mature and self-confident. Most boys are shy about being nude but that wears off fast as they become accustomed to the freedom. I know I did.Delete
I was a freshman at Lane Tech in 1977, and during my 1st semester, I got 1st period swimming. I had to take the bus from Western & Peterson during the coldest winter I remember, and often was frozen by the time I had to get in the ice cold pool every Monday morning at 8:00. Besides having a 1-10 schedule, I hated it! Our swim coach was Mr. Valentine, whom was a former Olympic swimmer during the '20s. You know whom the other Olympic swimmer was that went to Lane, just before him (because they had a board on the wall that told us)? Johnny Weismuller!ReplyDelete
Swam naked at TTHS in Harvey, Illinois, 1970'sReplyDelete
I learned to swim at the Y in Ohio at age 10, and no one wore suits, not even the instructors. The Y was clean and well-maintained, with showers mandatory before entering the pool. Nude swimming was normal and accepted (which it should be). Most health clubs in those days were all-male and never required suits. And they were a lot cleaner than the ones we have today. In modern clubs I have seen guys jump in the swimming pool in their dirty workout trunks without even taking a shower! Filthy and inconsiderate - this would never be allowed in the old Ys.ReplyDelete
I find it interesting that there is no mention of the "straddle bar". After showering and before the foot dip, we had to go through an enclosed area with a horizontal water pipe about 2 feet off the floor with holes on the top surface that we had to walk over with one foot on each side of the bar. This was at Morgan Park High School, 1957 - 1961ReplyDelete
Not all swimming pool facilities had them. Chicago's Mather H.S. did not.Delete
I remember starting swimming lessons when I was 4 years old at the local Massachusetts high school in 1966. I was terrified of the water at first and thankfully the instructors, to include my father, helped me to overcome my fear. It was a public event and I don't remember anyone being nude. Subsequent swimming lessons were not nude. Funny, because as far back as my early teen years, I loved to run around nude out in the woods and even today enjoy swimming naked in creeks and ponds. I've come to realize it's natural and regret that the US is so prudish about it.ReplyDelete
Went to Lane , graduated in 1972 swam naked for freshman lessons. I was a lifeguard and swam on the swim team, we wore Speedo suits for both activities. We also did arm rubs and hair checks to check if the student had washed prior to coming in to the pool. We also had bleach trays that the swimmers had to walk through after their showers. I don't know when they stopped, but my son didn't swim naked when he went in the early 2000's.ReplyDelete
I went to Lane, graduated in 1980. I believe 1978 was the last year we had to swim naked, because in the fall of 1978 all of the gym and swim classes were made co-ed, which finally put an end to naked swimming.Delete
Tittle IX was enacted in 1972. That ended nude swimming, unfortunately.Delete
@DougRoberts - I don't see anything in Title IX that covers nude swimming.Delete
We swam nude at Chicago's Mt. Carmel H.S. during the mid 60's. I was always fascinated that the PE instructors would, without fail, select the coldest days in January or February to begin our aquatic activityReplyDelete
Morton East High School in Cicero had guys PE classes swim like that in the early 60s, I think. I had Freshman year in 1968 there as a girl and had tank top style suits and transferred to RB for the following 3 years and had the same type of swim suit. I am not sure if the guys then at either school got swimming trunks to wear.ReplyDelete
Lowell Tech, Lowell, MA 1971. During orientation week, all boys had to do a swim test in the nude. Those of us that failed then had to do a swim class (in the nude) as one of our PE requirements. It was my 1st time ever skinny dipping & I liked it. Girls didn't have to do the test or take PE and there were never any girls present during swim class.ReplyDelete
We swam naked at Taft HS in the mid 70s, it would then feel strange to wear a suit when swimming at the lakefront come summer. The doors coming up from the separate locker rooms had the old fashioned keyholes. There would be a few times we would hear giggling coming from behind the girls door. Of course one of us guys would stand in front of the keyhole, facing it, making some smart remark. Fun days.ReplyDelete
Great website by the way, thank you.
No one has mentioned college swimming. In 1973, women swimming indoors in Ida Noyes Hall at the University of Chicago swam nude (with swim caps, lol). I was a newlywed just moved up from Texas, and was shocked down to my absent socks. And it was the first time I had ever sat around a group of naked adult women--indeed a new experience. But I loved to swim, and got used to it. Do not know when that custom was discontinued.ReplyDelete
The high school I attended in the mid 1950's had nude swimming for the boys and tank suits for the girls. There was a boys swimming pool and a girls swimming pool, as well as separate gyms. Rumor had it that a school board member back in the early 1920's when the facility was built, insisted that the boys and girls were not to intermingle in gym, or swimming, hence separate facilities.ReplyDelete
We swam nude too in Jr and High School. The women gym teachers helped instruct the boys but the men teachers didn't help with the girls even though they wore suits. There was a hallway from the pool to the locker rooms. When you opened the doors to the boys locker room you could see right in but the girls locker room entrance had a divider so we couldn't get a peek lol. I wish i was 11 again life was so much easier.ReplyDelete
I learned to swim in hs like most city boys. It was nude in the pool, dressed for classroom instruction. Most were embarrassed at first, but we soon accepted it and actually I liked swimming without a suit.Delete
A few times the female PE instructor came to the pool bc the regular coach had a meeting. She let us have open swim and water polo so no one concerned.
I have always wondered how in America which is an example of democracy has not been equal treatment for genders in schools. Why boys had to swim nude and girls not? I don't think it is fair. In Europe (these examples are not from schools, but general) boys and girls were almost everywhere treated equally what concerns nudity. In German sports camps children swam often nude and always both genders. Also in Soviet Union pioneer camp Artek nude swimming was introduced until 1962. Separate areas (distance 150-200 m) for boys and girls and both nude. Because in Soviet Union until 1980's was no synthetic swimsuits and cotton swimsuits became too wet. Also in sauna culture countries like Sweden or Finland always common nudity for both genders and among youngsters also. Why America decided other way?ReplyDelete
All the guys swam nude in the swimming holes at the edge of town in Youngstown, Ohio in the late 1940's and early 1950's.ReplyDelete
We would ride our bikes to the swimming hole and would later ride naked on the trails through the woods until we got to the highway.
From the late 1940's until we went off to college we swam without swimsuits at the local YMCA. Being nude at the Y was not an issue for me because I was used to my nude swimming days with my friends who also went to the Y with me.
At college in Cleveland at Case All the gym classes swam nude and I swam nude for the swimming qualification test when I was in the Army
I should have tried to fail the test so I could have spent a few hours daily at the heated indoor pool instead of outdoors in the winter. HAHA
I remember swimming nude at the Y, I was just a kid at the time and never thought about it. When I got into High School in the late 60s, we had to swim nude. I hated it . I hated it to the point on swim day I would just cut the class or stay home with a tummy or headacheReplyDelete
Nude Swimming should still be the norm today. What has happened to America that has caused society to reject what had been the normal & natural a few decades ago!??ReplyDelete
Chemicals, like Chlorine.Delete
That pool in the top-most image looks exactly like the one that was in the basement of my high school, under the gym. Very narrow decks and white glazed brick everywhere. We were freaked out as freshman when we had to swim nude, but after that, it was not a big deal. We even played water polo in gym class! That got pretty rough, and guys routinely got choked and banged-up. Our pool used something called bromine instead of chlorine. It was really hard on the eyes. And when my old school was torn down in the 90s, the last thing left was the remains of the pool.ReplyDelete
Very interesting narrative. We swam nude at PWHS in '73, 74 & 75 but we're daily issued Speedo suits in '76 when we had co-ed P.E. classes.ReplyDelete
I went to Thornton HS in Harvey, IL 1973–74 (before family moved out of area). For freshman, that meant a mandatory 9 weeks of swimming as part of PE class.ReplyDelete
For the guys, that also meant something else. It meant 9 weeks of NUDE swimming class, 5 days a week.
There were various reasons given as to why that was depending on who you spoke to and in spite of the outcries by some - the nude classes went on and were mandatory - refuse and you failed PE - period.
I can recall even now the Friday before the start of swimming class the following Monday one of my classmates inquiring about swimming suits (as to whether we had to purchase one or the school would be providing them) and our PE teacher replying “neither, you won't be wearing swim suits, boys do swimming class nude here. No one cares what you look like and if you are shy, get over it".
The first week or so there were a lot of hands covering things with guys trying their best to stay covered even while jumping into the pool.
After about a week no one was doing that anymore. Everyone got used to what was happening. And quoting the PE teacher “no one cared".
There was a couple instances where you question the “thinking" when our regular PE teacher wasn't there and the sub was a female - but even that didn't seem to bother anyone: nude we got and swimming class went on as usual.
My understanding is that practice at Thornton stopped in the late-90′s, early 2000′s sometime. Even with the explanations given still never really understood it, but, I did it, just like every other male freshman at the school did for many years before and after me did.
My husband tells of nude swimming at Lane Tech in Chicago in the 1960s. He was assigned the duty of taking numbers of the boys before they went in. He sat in a chair and one by one they came up and gave their numbers.ReplyDelete
My millennial friend tells me the high school he attended in upstate NY has nice locker rooms with private showers but no one uses them. They just change after gym class and go back to class. It would seem the younger generation is quite prudish. If you mention nude swimming to them they are shocked.
Now you have proof. It's worth a free drink or two at bars.Delete