Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America

Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America

Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America

Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America

Synopsis

As sites of race riots, shrinking swimsuits, and conspicuous leisure, swimming pools reflect the tensions and transformations that have given rise to modern America.

Excerpt

In 1898 Boston’s mayor Josiah Quincy sent Daniel Kearns, secretary of the city’s bath commission, to study Philadelphia’s bathing pools. Philadelphia was the most prolific early builder of municipal pools, operating nine at the time. All but three were located in residential slums and, according to Kearns, attracted only “the lower classes or street gamins.” City officials had built the austere pools during the 1880s and early 1890s—before the germ theory of disease transmission was popularly accepted—and intended them to provide baths for working-class men and women, who used them on alternating days. the facilities lacked showers, because the pools themselves were the instruments of cleaning. Armed with the relatively new knowledge of the microbe, Kearns was disturbed to see unclean boys plunging into the water: “I must say that some of the street gamins, both white and colored, that I saw, were quite as dirty as it is possible for one to conceive.” While the unclean boys shocked Kearns, blacks and whites swimming together elicited no surprise. He commented extensively on the shared class status of the “street gamins” and their dirtiness but mentioned their racial diversity only in passing. Nor did racial difference seem to matter much to the swimmers, at least not in this social context. the pools were wildly popular. Each one recorded an average of 144,000 swims per summer, or about 1,500 swimmers per day.

Fifty-three years later, the scene at a municipal pool in Youngstown, Ohio, was quite different. a Little League baseball team had won the 1951 city championship and decided to celebrate at the local pool. the large facility was situated within the sylvan beauty of the city’s Southside Park, not in a residential slum. the pool itself was surrounded by a broad deck and grassy lawn, both of which provided swimmers ample space to play games or lie in the sun. the pool was clearly intended to promote leisure, not cleanliness. To celebrate their baseball victory, coaches, players, parents, and siblings . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.