During the summer of 1950, with 8th-grade graduation out of the way, my thoughts turned to my approaching entry into high-school life. For male freshmen in 1950, initiation into Lockport Township High School included the nude-swimming PE class.
You walk into PE class on that anxiety-ridden first day knowing that your clothes and towel stay in the locker while you descend naked to the swimming pool on the floor below. One problem with such a class is that when you’re 14 you can look like you’re any age between 12 and 16. I also had the added factor of being totally afraid of water (stemming back to an incident when I was five). On that first day we were told to take a shower, descend down a circular metal stairway to the pool area and line up for inspection. The reason given for no suits was that the suits that males wore polluted the water and fouled the drain filters. The official reason for the up-close inspection was that the instructor would be looking for athlete’s foot. With inspection out of the way, the rest of the period was “free swim.” And that was the way it was pretty much for the rest of the year. The swimmers went to the deep end, and I and some others went to the other end. Once you were in the water you tended to stay there, because, even though the room temperature was around 90 degrees, it felt cold to get out and walk around. The attempts to teach swimming were pretty minimal. I started and ended the year not knowing how to swim. As the year went on, everyone developed athlete’s foot, but no one was barred from class because of that.
I never liked the days when I had swimming class, but I feel I learned a life lesson about facing up to things that I want to flee from.
I’m glad I grew up in the 50s. It was a simpler time. You did what was expected and didn't ask a lot of questions. It was easier that way. I guess.
Later I did learn to swim when I took a swimming class during my last semester at Purdue in 1959. There were four of us taking the class, and we were asked on day-one whether we preferred suits or no-suits. We all showed up at the next class in bathing suits. By the end of the semester we could swim laps.
For boys, nude swimming in high-school PE classes from coast to coast was an accepted thing throughout the first half of the 20th century. At the same time, girls wore suits that were usually supplied by the school. Teachers in charge of boys' swimming were usually men, but not always. Nude swimming began to be phased out in the sixties, and by 1973 almost everyone wore bathing suits.