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Coeducation, Naked Swimming, and a Little History of Chicago Education

May 12, 2017

This DNAInfo piece looks back on the gender integration of one of Chicago’s math-and-science focused secondary schools, Lane Tech.

Here’s a key passage that helps explain the need for integration—beyond mere legal considerations:

Lane Tech, at 2501 W. Addison St., was founded in 1908 as a manual training school for boys. At one point, attendance topped 9,000, with classes held in three shifts. But in the late 1950s, the school switched to a selective admission policy — spurred by the Space Race to become a science and engineering hub.

The resulting dip in enrollment prompted then-CPS Superintendent James Redmond to recommend co-education as a way to bolster the student body, a proposal that met with significant resistance from a sizable portion of Lane’s tradition-bound community.

The result: “Girls, in small numbers, were first admitted to the formerly all-boys bastion in the 1971-72 school year.”

Read the rest of the article. It’s fascinating. But here’s an additional, provocative tidbit that caught my eye:

Pranks were played on the girls but they were the same ones played on freshmen boys, like the selling of bogus elevator passes, the women said.

But there was one notable exception.

For lack of changing and showering facilities — “The locker room situation was abysmal,” Majeske said — girls weren’t allowed to take swimming the first couple of years.

That meant the boys still swam naked, the alums said, which led to another popular trick — misdirecting the girls to the pool to get an eyeful.

Wait, what? Boys swam naked?!

For how long? And why would the lack of changing facilities prevent this? The boys still had to strip somewhere to get in the pool. So why not just add trunks to that agenda? Who provided the towels? And couldn’t the boys just have had a bag for their wet trunks? They had lockers, right?

I know the past is a foreign country, but this particular country, historically, has been more prudish than even its Victorian, Protestant forebears. And the 1950s were particularly known for its renewed religious sensibilities.

What is the answer to this riddle? Was naked swimming recommended by public health advocates or doctors? If so, why did they recommend nude swimming until the 1970s?

Answers anyone? – TL

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