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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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  1. Kevin Harlowe permalink

    If you go to this website you will find a repository of all kinds of information on this absurd practice.
    It reduces to the fact that the American Public Health Association recommended the adoption of this practice in 1926 to alleviate clogging pool filters from fibers shed by the suits. Females were allowed suits, made of the same fabric, because of “female modesty”. Go to Oak Street beach and tell me about “female modesty.”
    Every solution you proffered was perfectly workable, of course. So, you have to ask yourself what was the point to this? If boys were forced to be nude, it was because the powers that be wanted them nude. It was simply a sanctioned way of reinforcing manliness and docility in future men who would shortly wind up in uniforms, defending some useless bit of territory some where in the world. It was part of what we would now call gender roles.
    What killed it off was a convergence of trends–changes in those gender roles; Title IX; the end of conscription; increasing awareness of child abuse.
    It really was nasty. If you look at the websites where men discuss this, some of them actually liked the idea. I might have, too given a choice. But we had none. It seems most guys at least disliked it, some were out right traumatized.
    It happened to me 50 years ago, in Rockford, and I’m still hacked off.
    And yes, it wasn’t peculiar to Chicago; it was essentially universal, pretty much world wide. Not a product of culture, so much as a peculiarity of a given time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the long comment, Kevin. I was not aware of the public health recommendation about suit fibers and pool filters. – TL


  2. uno permalink

    Watch this documentary.
    It has part 2 and part 3 too.


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