Don't all schools require bathing suits?
September 7, 2005 11:57 AM   Subscribe

Two of my male coworkers who grew up in the 50s/60s have related stories of being made to swim naked during gym classes in school (one from private, one from public schools). Am I the bizarre one to find this completely bizarre? Is this a regional thing?
posted by archimago to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Our school was too small for a pool, but I do remember that no one seemed to bother with a suit at the local YMCA.
posted by caddis at 12:03 PM on September 7, 2005

I had to do it in the early '70s in Michigan at a public high school.

Yes, it was bizarre.
posted by Floydd at 12:03 PM on September 7, 2005

The pool at the (private) high school that both I and my dad attended was built around the 1940's and the pool filter couldn't handle the lint from bathing suits or it would clog and die. When my dad was attending the school, it was single-sex, so they swam at least some of the time (gym, swim team practices) in the buff. But for swim team meets and water polo meets, I presume they wore uniform bathing suits.

The pool had been refitted with a modern filter system by the time I got there, which was good, because the school has also gone co-ed.

Incidentally, the swimming coach's name was Coach Kramp. Really.
posted by Asparagirl at 12:13 PM on September 7, 2005

I had to do it in the early '70s in Michigan at a public high school.

This was not a co-ed thing, right? I mean, they couldn't have been THAT insane.
posted by spicynuts at 12:13 PM on September 7, 2005

Damn, why didn't I go to one of these schools?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:27 PM on September 7, 2005

Asparagirl: The pool at the (private) high school that both I and my dad attended was built around the 1940's and the pool filter couldn't handle the lint from bathing suits or it would clog and die.

Well, that might be what the told you... The lint from terricloth is much much worse than any swimsuit.
posted by Chuckles at 12:38 PM on September 7, 2005

No, spicynuts, we had separate boys and girls gym classes.
To have girls in the class would have been too hard on us boys.
Oh, and Coach Krapp and Coach Ramm.
worst days of my life....
posted by Floydd at 1:16 PM on September 7, 2005

The girl's gym at my University had a pool, and all of its windows were painted white, supposedly becasue they used to swim naked in there. (This was the early 70s.) Knowing American girls, I can imagine the ruckus they'd raise at this requirement -- boys, too. (And I can't imagine any mens' coach of that era allowing participation in an athletic activity without wearing the proper 'support' -- ie a jockstrap.) As my story indicates, there were rumors, but I have no facts.
posted by Rash at 1:21 PM on September 7, 2005

A swimming pool filter that gets clogged by swimming suits? Hmm, sounds fishy to me. You'd think they'd go back to the drawing board on that one rather than sell it.
posted by Hildago at 2:02 PM on September 7, 2005

My dad did. Many of the kids in his HS were too damn poor to afford a swimsuit, so they had single sex swim classes, and everyone swam nekkid. This was in the WWII/immediate post war era. I wouldn't be at all surprised if that continued for a decade or so in the less affluent areas of the country. (My mom, going to HS at the same time but in the city, had clothed swim classes, but she tells stories of families/friends sharing suits. She was the fifth girl to wear her suit, and it got passed on to at least two other girls after she finished her swim classes.)

Chuckles: how would the terrycloth lint get *into* the pool? Towels didn't used to be fluffy terrycloth -- think more like dishtowels. Swimsuits used to be made of cotton, and linted a lot more than towels did.
posted by jlkr at 2:04 PM on September 7, 2005

When I was a child (late 1980s), my father would take my brother and I to the Missouri Athletic Club in downtown St. Louis. All the men over 60 years of age or so swam naked. Yes, not a pretty thing to picture. They also sunbathed nude on the roof of the building, until the early nineties, when the tenants of the high-rises that had grown up around the building started to complain. Women were not allowed above the fourth floor of the building for this reason (except for the ones you took directly to the "sleeping" rooms on the tenth floor I suppose.)
posted by muddylemon at 2:05 PM on September 7, 2005

Keep in mind, in many countries, this is totally the norm. Germany and the Netherlands are the places that spring to mind, where you will actually get yelled at for being clothed in saunas (the water held in your suit raises humidity, which is undesirable to the sauna purists) and it's the norm to go naked in pools (or so it would seem, based on my limited experience and various reports).
posted by phrontist at 3:02 PM on September 7, 2005

staying on the same derail that phrontist got onto: public swim-nakedness is quite common in japan, too. see: onsen.
posted by RockyChrysler at 3:56 PM on September 7, 2005

This one time, at YMCA camp, we had to swim in the local river and moon the people on shore. The winner was the one who could bob his (this was males only, for some reason. That reason being Central Texas, methinks) buttocks the most times without coming up for air. The losers had to skinny dip the rest of the time.
posted by WolfDaddy at 4:00 PM on September 7, 2005

Yeah, but RockyChrysler, it's the rare onsen or sento in Japan which doesn't have bathing facilities segregated by sex. Europe's definitely more enlightened -- I've been to a very nice hotel in Germany whose swimming pool was a designated textile-free zone. My more-prudish travel companion couldn't handle it, insisted on wearing his trunks in the pool, and was oblivious to the amused reaction his bathing costume provoked, in the natives.
posted by Rash at 4:14 PM on September 7, 2005

We (the boys) did at a public high school in Toronto in the '60s. The girls wore some kind of regulation issue suits in their swim classes, though.
posted by timeistight at 4:35 PM on September 7, 2005

Wasn't there an episode of "Eight Is Enough" that involved swimming naked at the YMCA? I seem to remember my mom saying that it wasn't unheard of.
posted by kimota at 5:08 PM on September 7, 2005

Naked swimming (boys only, I think) was the norm at my Midwestern public H.S. Not sure of the date on this, but it was decades before I got there in the '90s. I went to a really old H.S. and all our gym teachers used to tell us about it in an effort to get us to stop b*tching about our swimming conditions.
posted by awegz at 5:14 PM on September 7, 2005

In the bizarre coincidences department: my software engineering professor related a story today that when he was in school at the University of Pennsylvania, they swam nude for gym class.

Man, I wish my queer ass had been born thirty years earlier. Well, not really, but I do want naked swimming...
posted by Netzapper at 5:55 PM on September 7, 2005

For many, many years, any boy who learned to swim at the Deseret Gym in Salt Lake learned to swim in the nude.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:00 PM on September 7, 2005

I just called my dad. He swam nekkid at the YMCA in Green Bay, WI in the '40s and '50s.
posted by clh at 6:14 PM on September 7, 2005

Years ago, when I stayed at the YWCA in Vancouver, BC, there was a women-only, suit-optional swimming time.

(Oddly enough, the Y's "double" rooms were all fitted out with single beds that could not be moved closer together.)
posted by Carol Anne at 6:29 PM on September 7, 2005

I attended a Chicago publich high-school from 1964-1967. Gym classes (including swimming and "Health") were segregated by sex. I heard that the boys swam in the nude, although I didn't see this with my own eyes. We girls might as well have swum in the nude. We had to wear jersey suits with no lining and no bust support. You checked one out at the beginning of class from a counter in the locker room, and at the end of class dropped it down a chute to be washed. (I think we paid something per school year for this "service.") The color of your suit denoted your swimming ability. I was a non-swimmer and never got above "gray suit." Of course, the gray suits were the most shapeless and stretched out of the bunch. Even the top-swimming "red suits" used a shoelace to tie the suit straps together at the back, in order to get some coverage in the front.
posted by Joleta at 6:37 PM on September 7, 2005

Ex Pool Manager chiming in...

Just to confirm, swimming naked was not because the filters couldn't handle the lint. The majority of clogging mass in filters is hair - a vast majority. And it is more likely to be head and body hair from men than head hair from women. So, if anything, they were adding more hair to the mix by swimming naked.

As many have stated before, it was just the way it was done in much of the country for a long time. Didn't start to change until co-ed swimming. Many community pools (indoors) had separate days for men and women to swim because of this. It is more common I think in communities that had a strong European influence, so it may very well stem from traditions across the pond.
posted by qwip at 7:22 PM on September 7, 2005

Keep in mind, in many countries, this is totally the norm. Germany and the Netherlands are the places that spring to mind, where you will actually get yelled at for being clothed in saunas [...] and it's the norm to go naked in pools

I grew up in the Netherlands, and yes, you go naked in saunas pretty much everywhere (a couple of girls I know insisted on going to the one spa they knew of where you could keep your bikini on), but I've never heard of naked swimming classes in school. I don't have all the facts, but I can't imagine that happening anywhere in NL from the late seventies onwards, and probably not before that. Anyone with a different experience, feel free to step up.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:44 AM on September 8, 2005

In YMCA camp (Michigan) we had naked swimming some nights, but not at the boy's swimming times in the pool, in the city. (Flint, 1960's)

Perhaps this custom was in part to reduce irrational body modesty. I knew a guy in the Air Force who had to go to a therapy program in basic training, because he suffered body modesty to a degree which made it impossible for him to function in a military environment.
posted by Goofyy at 8:02 AM on September 8, 2005

In a book of Edwardian photographs, I saw one photo of English boys swimming naked. The caption said this was the common practice at the time.
posted by orange swan at 11:32 AM on September 21, 2005

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