The Water Nymph Club (Part Four)

During the summer of 1923, the Telegram published a syndicated series of swimming tips for women. Click here for the full series.

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The Telegram, August 7, 1923.

From Jeff Wiltse’s book Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), a few words on the changes occurring by the 1920s in who was using pools for swimming and other leisurely pursuits (the use of “resort pool” here included large spaces operated by municipalities).

The resort pools of the interwar years democratized swimming in America and transformed the social composition of swimmers. Millions of new swimmers–including large numbers of females, adults, and middle-class Americans–flocked to them. Gone were the days when working class boys dominated these spaces. Most critically, the social divisions that characterized pool use during the Industrial Age largely evaporated during the 1920s and 1930s. Working class and middle class, men and women, and children and adults all swam together. The social integration resulted from several factors. For one, the redesign and relocation of pools made them appealing to adults and the middle class. Adults enjoyed lying out on the sand beaches and socializing on the pool decks. Middle-class Americans felt comfortable accessing pools located in large parks rather than buried in residential slums. At the same time, the prejudices that had deterred the middle class from swimming with the working classes during the Progressive Era weakened during the 1920s. Working-class whites did not seem quite as poor, dirty, and foreign as before. Gender integration resulted mainly from changes to public policy. Across the nation, public officials permitted males and females to swim together beginning in the 1920s because they intended the new resort pools to promote family and community sociability. They looked to swimming pools to bring diverse members of the community together, not keep them apart, as was the case earlier. The result was a complete social reconstruction of these public spaces.

As public officials intended, the municipal pools of the interwar years functioned as centers of community life. They attracted thousands of people at a time and, unlike at most public spaces, the social contact was sustained and interactive. Swimmers spent hours, often the entire day, at pools–playing games, sunbathing, and chatting.

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The Telegram, August 8. 1923.

Not everyone was welcome at all of Toronto’s swimming areas. By the early 1930s, members of the Jewish community found that summer resorts near the city forbid their presence, while groups like the Balmy Beach Swastika Club chased them away from lakeside beaches.

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The Telegram, August 9. 1923.

One other change Wiltse observes happened as gender integration hit swimming spots: the creation of erotic public spaces.

Males and females shared the same water, rubbed shoulders on sandy beaches, and viewed one another mostly unclothed. Public officials mandated conservative swimsuits early in the 1920s in an attempt to ensure modesty and dampen the sexual charge. After the mid-1920s, however, the acceptable size of swimsuits gradually shrank until, by 1940, men wore nothing but tight trunks and many women wore two-piece brassiere suits. Swimmers and spectators at municipal pools could gaze upon the legs, hips, back, bust line, and shoulders of women and almost the entirety of men’s bodies. As a result, municipal pools became public stages for oneself on display and public venues for visually consuming others. This exhibitionism and voyeurism eroticized municipal pools and contributed to a fundamental shift in American culture. Public objectification of female and male bodies became acceptable, and public decency came to mean exhibiting an attractive appearance rather than protecting one’s modesty.

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The Telegram, August 10, 1923.

This increasing eroticism may partly explain the Telegram‘s decision to hold a “Water Nymph Carnival” at Sunnyside to tie into the daily lessons. The first announcement appeared on August 10.

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The Telegram, August 10, 1923.

The way “water nymph” is used throughout this announcement makes it sound like a fetish term.

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The Telegram, August 11, 1923.

The Telegram, August 11, 1923.

The Telegram‘s weekend photo roundup began including subtle nods to the upcoming Water Nymph Carnival. Little would readers realize how much promotional material they’d see over the next week.

Next time: All water nymphs, all the time…and why there was no such thing as a masculine water nymph.

The Water Nymph Club (Part Three)

During the summer of 1923, the Telegram published a syndicated series of swimming tips for women. Click here for the full series.

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The Telegram, July 30, 1923.

Four years before this series was published, the Telegram printed an article where swimming expert George Hebden Corsan explained why women were so well-adapted to the water.

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The Telegram, July 24, 1919.

Corsan believed men required more intensive instruction in learning how to swim due to their heavier muscle mass.

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The Globe, October 7, 1926.

There’s a lot more to say about Corsan, a pioneering swim instructor who dabbled in farming and vegetarianism, in upcoming posts.

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The Telegram, July 31, 1923.

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The Telegram, July 18, 1919.

A sampling of post-First World War bathing suits, which the copywriter regards as “utilitarian.”

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The Telegram, August 1, 1923.

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The Telegram, July 18, 1919.

Apparently Chicago’s beachwear was considered far more chic that Toronto’s.

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The Telegram, August 2, 1923.

A few words on the early evolution of swimwear during the late 19th and early 20th centuries from Lisa Bier’s book Fighting the Current: The Rise of American Women’s Swimming, 1870-1926 (Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2011):

Women’s bathing costumes ranged from the rented plain suits to very fancy silk ones, but what they had in common was coverage. These suits provided more skin coverage than today’s dresses, with skirts that reached at least the knee, corsets, sleeves, bloomers, stockings, and bathing shoes. They were dark in colour for modesty’s sake, and often quite heavy when wet. Pressures from society concerning modesty conflicted with issues of safety and function. For women interested in venturing away from the ropes and actually swimming, not just wading, the suits were a hinderance and a danger.

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The Telegram, August 3, 1923.

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The Telegram, August 4, 1923.

Next time: The Telegram makes a big announcement for aspiring water nymphs.

The Water Nymph Club (Part Two)

During the summer of 1923, the Evening Telegram published a syndicated series of swimming lessons for women. Due to time constraints, and wanting to post the rest of these tips while its swimming season, here is week two of the series sans commentary. More context in future posts!

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The Telegram, July 23, 1923.

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The Telegram, July 24, 1923.

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The Telegram, July 25, 1923.

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The Telegram, July 26, 1923.

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The Telegram, July 27, 1923.

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The Telegram, July 28, 1923.

The Water Nymph Club (Part One)

 

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Preview ad, The Telegram, July 14, 1923.

While it’s hard to say if swimming develops grace and charm, it’s true that Torontonians love to hit their local beaches and pools. The arrival of the high swim season provides an excuse to explore a syndicated series of tips directed towards women that were published (mostly) on the Telegram‘s comics page during the summer of 1923.

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The Telegram, July 16, 1923.

Are your scissors handy? Good. Let’s begin with a guide to proper gear (this was still the era of Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties), and some background on the author of this series.

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The Telegram, July 17, 1923.

The Water Nymph Club’s roots appear to be Midwestern. Merze Marvin Seeberger (1887-1973) entered journalism in her late teens, assisting her father at the Sentinel-Post in Shenandoah, Iowa. In 1911 she published a book, The McCauslands of Donaghanie and allied families, which is available on the Internet Archive. According to several genealogical sites, she spent a year-and-a-half working as a stenographer for the state auditor in Des Moines, and graduated from the University of Missouri.

By 1918, she worked in the advertising department of the Des Moines Register-Tribune and belonged to Theta Sigma Phi, a society for female journalists which later evolved into the Association for Women in Communications. At TSP’s first convention, held at the University of Kansas that year, she spoke about the need for female journalism instructors.

One-third of the students enrolled in schools and departments of journalism today are women. The percentage is steadily increasing, just as the number of women employed on our newspapers is increasing…The schools boast of their progress, their up-to-datedness…Are they now to fall behind, to fail to keep up with the newspapers in giving women their opportunity? I think not. Before another Theta Sigma Phi convention the woman instructor in journalsim will have come into her own.

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The Telegram, July 18, 1923.

Based on a filing with the Library of Congress, the Water Nymph Club series first appeared in the Des Moines Evening Tribune on July 2, 1923, running for 32 installments through August 8. Scanning the web shows it appeared in various newspapers across the midwest that summer.

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The Telegram, July 19, 1923.

The series may have circulated for several years, as it  (or a similar column) appears to have been published in the Washington Evening Star two years later.

 

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The Telegram, July 20, 1923.

The introductory ad for the series appeared on “The Girls Own Tely” page, which was billed as “Sports, Interests, and Activities of Girls, By Girls and For Girls.” Besides this page, the Saturday Telegram carried similar spreads for boys and young children. The features on July 14, 1923 included:

  • “Boys Best at Mathematics? Popular View May Be Wrong”: A piece attempting to debunk the belief of many Toronto high school teachers that males were better at math. The uncredited writer points to statements given by E.F. Phipps, headmistress of a girls school in Swansea, England, in reaction to recent exams at Oxford University where male math scores were higher. Phipps pointed out four reasons for this seeming inequality: lower school attendance by females; less time devoted to mathematics compared to domestic sciences; exam questions using examples more familiar to males than females, such as “cricket and racing;” and males had better qualified teachers. “I think you will find,” Phipps concluded, “that where the above-named disabilities have not been present girls have done as well as boys in arithmetic.”
  • Highlights of Inter-Church Baseball League play (Toronto was the “City of Churches”…)
  • A picture of the staff of the Harbord Collegiate Review, which had published its first edition in over a decade.
  • A story about the misadventures of several girls from The Beaches attempting to return home from a day on the Toronto Islands, foiled by rain, a slow freight train, and the TTC (see below).

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  • “In the World of Books,” where the uncredited writer reminisced about childhood favourites like Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Beatrix Potter, and Tanglewood Tales. Their present taste in literature included classics by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Oscar Wilde.

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The Telegram, July 21, 1923.

In the next installment, another week’s worth of lessons, and stories of swimming in 1920s Toronto.

Additional material from Women’s Press Organizations, 1881-1999, Elizabeth V. Burt, editor (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2000) and DC Sports: The Nation’s Capital at Play,
Chris Elzey and David K. Wiggins, editors (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2015).