A. Swimming Class News Articles

The following news articles and photos are taken from historic archives of well know magazines and newspapers.   They were originally published to be viewed by the general public regardless of age.    There are literally hundreds of period specific articles we could post that discussed school or public recreation programs wherein boys were required to swim nude as opposed to the girls, who always wore suits.  Prior to the 1970s, this was standard practice and thus, such articles are unremarkable and restate the obvious.   Articles we have posted here demonstrate double-standards in that they show young male nudity in public newspapers and magazines, or, evidence mixed-gender access to the swim areas while the boys conducted the courses in the nude.



LIFE Magazine; Jan. 13, 1941. "Democracy in US Schools", p. 66.
(click on image to enlarge for reading)

These photos were printed in a 1941 edition of LIFE.   The fact that this family magazine was sold to the public on virtually ever newsstand in America is very telling of the culture of the day.   Taking a camera into a boys' locker room at school and photographing teenage boys completely naked while showering, then, printing that photo taking up an entire half page for the world to look at was consider perfectly appropriate.   The published letters to the editor immediately subsequent to this edition never revealed any reader voicing concern about it.    But there is little doubt that had the photograph been taken in the girls' showers showing them stark naked, it never would have been printed anywhere.     This clearly evidences a double-standard that reaches well into the 20th century.













1926 Ironwood Daily Globe
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In this press release by the district's superintendent, it is clear that the policy for boys to swim completely naked in many programs was not optional but mandatory, all the while girls always wore suits.  It states:

"Boys shall not be permitted to use suits while swimming. Girls must wear swimming suits preferably of cotton. All instructors in charge of classes consisting of either boys or girls shall wear swimming suits."

Also note that the superintendent addresses the issue that swim instructors must contact him immediately if they cannot make their class as he will provide a substitute.   Reports from men that once attended such classes tell of stories wherein their normal instructor was unavailable, and the substitute teacher was the female instructor that typically taught the girls' classes.














1940 Sheboygan Press
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The dichotomy in standards between boys and girls is emphasized in this 1940 edition of a Wisconsin newspaper.  The large print photos, which took up nearly a quarter of the city's daily newspaper, clearly showed nude boys in their swim class with one boy shown on the diving board stark naked from head to foot.   Further, not only did the editors provide the boys name, but his street address.  The girls are of course clothed in the photo.  

"There's one striking difference between the boys and girls at the recreation department's swimming classes in Central High on Saturday mornings. The girls wear suits. The boys pretend that the pool is some "ol' swimmin' hole" and go in minus everything except their dignity.  The two pictures above were taken at the classes last Saturday morning, the girls at 8:30, the boys at 10:30 o'clock.  Instructor Howard Rich has Victor (Chink) Relnholtz, 1530 St. Clair avenue, demonstrate correct diving technique for his fellow swimmers in the picture of the boys. The girls on the diving board in the other picture are, left to right: Doris Dottel, 1603 N. Twelfth street; Marion Frantz, 1916 S. Fourteenth street, and Joan Mahnke, 1014 Cooper avenue.   In the background are Howard Rich, instructor, and Harry Emtgh, recreation director, standing among the
other girls,   —Press photos."








The Appleton Post, 1961
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As time progressed, many parents became increasingly concerned about the policies requiring boys to swim nude.   One school district was hit by a petition from parents demanding the school remove the policy.   As part of its due diligence, the school district surveyed 34 schools, and of the 31 that responded, 20 had a policy requiring all boys to swim in the nude whereas girls wore suits.  This would suggest that at the time, about two-thirds of all schools with swim programs had the full nudity requirement for all boys.  However, this statistic is skewed as those schools that allowed boys to wear suits all had pools that were indoor-outdoor in nature, or observable from the girls' locker rooms.  Thus, for the one-third of the schools that did not have the swimsuit prohibition for boys, in all cases the reasons were based upon architectural design and placement of the pool, not about the exposure of the boys' naked bodies.  This implies that had those schools had similar indoor pool arrangements as the majority, they too would have had the nudity policy as well.  From this we can deduce that almost all schools that had indoor pools during that era had the standard policy requiring boys to swim nude while girls were provided suits.

Another matter that this article exposes is that although filtration may have been an issue at one time, despite the improvements in technology by the date of this article, boys were still required to swim nude for different reason...money.









Janesville Daily Gazette, 1967
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The article to the left in yet another Wisconsin publication gives us an indication as to the changing times.   In 1962, the American Public Health Association, which set health standards for many associations such as the YMCA and public schools,  dropped the nude swimming recommendation because it was no longer needed to preserve public health.   This insight is important because it underscores why male nude swimming was recommended and required for more than 50 years.

In the article, Marshall Junior High School considers whether it should reverse its 44-year policy of mandatory nude swimming for boys since the pool was built in 1923, despite girls always wearing suits during this same period.  The arguments concerning antiquated filtering systems were no longer valid given the new filtration systems, and, the fact that suits were now being made from synthetic (lint-free) fibers.  

Despite these revelations, the school administration was still reluctant to change the long tradition where boys were always expected to participate in all swim classes completely naked.  One has to ponder why it was that even when there was no longer any logical reasons for boys to be required to participate in swim classes naked, many administrators, teachers and parents still fought to assure the customary requirement remained.






Were females ever present during swim classes?

Posts by those that lived during this period found on forums and discussion boards are consistent with their agreement that it was more common than not for swimming programs to require boys to swim nude whereas girls were always clothed.  What is not consistent with these stories and often debated is whether females were allowed into the pool area while the boys were swimming in the nude. 

We found one blog on a Fargo, North Dakota public high school site wherein folks that went there in the 50s and 60s retold stories of their experiences.   The stories clearly evidenced that at the time the boys were required to swim in the nude whereas the girls were not.  What was also interesting was the posts by some of the women that talked about how the girls' locker room doors emptied onto the pool area, and the cracks in the door were wide enough to allow the girls to peek in while they routinely would enjoy watching the boys line up for role call naked.   Such stories are numerous, and several have been posted herein on our "Stories" page.   However, they do not answer a more perplexing question, and that is - were females ever allowed into the swimming areas at the same time boys were conducting nude swim classes?   Anecdotal stories posted by male bloggers have been found where they vehemently swear that, yes, they had female swim instructors while they conducted their swim classes in the nude.    Others profess that there were parents nights and swim meets wherein parents were allowed to watch the boys demonstrate their swimming skills and/or compete while the swam in the nude, and, that these parents might bring the boys' female siblings to watch as well. 

Finding articles that specifically state there were females in the swimming area while the boys swam nude are rare to find.  The
preponderance of articles and stories all seem to indicate that in most situations, when boys were taking swimming courses in the nude, they were routinely taught by male instructors, and females entering the pool area was not permitted. However, after exhaustive research, we did find several verified published news articles and accounts that would evidence there were in a number of instances times whereby the boys were swimming nude and while parents and siblings watched, or alternative, the boys were taught by female instructors. 

It should be noted that virtually all YMCAs, Boys Clubs, numerous community athletic facilities and many public school with pools followed guidelines for proper and safe management of pools set by the American Public Health Association, a Washington DC based public health professionals organization founded in 1872.   In 1926, the APHA adopted guidelines about swimming attire that indicated that because fibers clogged filters, bacteria count escalated and therefore all males using pools should bathe before entering and not be permitted to wear anything whatsoever, and that females should only wear suits that were not dyed.  This policy remained in effect until filtration systems had so improved that the guideline was no longer necessary, with the official change occurring in 1962.  Therefore, articles found that evidence female instruction of male swimmers at the YMCA and other swimming programs prior to 1962 is a good indicating that females may have been allowed into the pool areas while boys swam nude, although not absolutely conclusive.    However, when such articles expressly state that the boys were to swim nude, the respective news article must be viewed as conclusive, and we present some such articles below.

Many of the news articles on our site come from Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  The reason being is not that this one city was anomalous in swimming practices of boys, but that their main newspaper has been one of the most prolific in using optical character recognition ("OCR") and making their digital database part of the free public domain (you can read more about this on our "Process for Research" page.   Thus, search engines seem to love this particular newspaper and provides us a plethora of related hits.    It also makes us wonder what is still out there in the oceans of inaccessible newspaper databases yet to be OCR digitized and made available absent paid subscription to that news source.  Over time, we anticipate more and more articles and documented evidence to find their way onto our website, so please help us keep looking!

So, given the wealth of information from the Sheboygan Press, the city's main newspaper, we focused on a number of articles that occurred over a span of several years featuring the "Learn to Swim" program sponsored by the Department of Public Recreation, an overarching municipal agency that encompassed all schools.   What was clearly evidenced is that all articles we found over the span of years searched required the boys to swim nude whereas the girls work tank suits supplied by the department.   Such policies are also evidenced well in many articles concerning the YMCA "Learn to Swim" program as well.    And interesting, we have found several instances where these same classes had female instructors teaching courses for boys while, yes, boys were to swim nude.



The following articles, when combined, leads us to believe that during the 1940s through early 1960s, there were in fact swimming programs whereby boys swam in the nude, and, females were granted entrance into the swim area to observe them as the did; however, it was more uncommon than common.


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1952 Sheboygan Press
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The article to the left is typical of the advertisement for the Sheboygan Department of Public Recreations swimming program found from the early 1940s through the 1960s.   This particular one indicates the swimming program is open to boys and girls from the fourth grade through the eighth grade, and specifically states:

"Boys swim in the nude and are required to bring only a towel. Girls swim in suits provided by the Department of Public Recreation.  However, they must bring a towel. Girls must provide themselves with a bathing cap."

Regardless of the year these advertisements were published, they always indicate that the boys would not wear swimsuits whereas girls would.   Until well into the 1960s, we never found any exception to this, nor was it ever indicated that on certain days boys would be allowed to wear suits; rather, for reasons stated elsewhere, boys were never furnished swimsuits and always expected to swim nude during those years.










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1953 Sheboygan Press
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In 1953 the program can also be seen advertised in the article to the left.   It states:

"All classes are free to the participating boy or girl, the only requirement being that girls must bring a bathing cap and towel for, the swimming classes and boys should bring a towel. The boys swim in the nude while the girls are furnished tank suits."


One perplexing question is that if the department did not have to pay for, store or clean the boys' suits, why would they require boys to bring towels but forbade them from bringing swimsuits also?












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1954 Sheboygan Press
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In 1954 another article discusses this annual class for boys and girls ages 10 to 14, and states: "Boys swim unhampered by suits and bring only a towel as their contribution each afternoon.  Girls bring their own bathing caps and are supplied with suits for the morning workouts."

The article indicates the program had become quite popular over the previous years with over 400 students enrolling.  Due to this, this year they scheduled 14 half-hour courses each day; thus, when dividing up the students by age, it meant some classes would have up to 37 students, therefore requiring 4 instructors for each of the 14 classes that day.   The number of instructors per class is not inconsistent with that required at YMCA programs, which may have had as many as 7 instructors per each class when programs saw large enrollment as a general rule of thumb was when students cannot swim, about one instructor 5 students is optimal (articles evidencing this are on file but not presented).   The article presented here states:

"Although 25 per class is considered ideal for most programs of this type, public demand has been so great that the classes this year range in number from 27 to 37.  By careful planning every child who signed up in school could be fitted into the crowded schedule this term."

The following passage indicates that there were only 4 instructors, and each had to "endure" all 14 half-hour classes each day.

"A total of 404 young Sheboyganites, from 10 to 14 years of age, trek to the pool daily to learn the rudiments of swimming from four eminently qualified teachers who endure rugged schedule of 14 half-hour classes each day."   Thus, each of the the instructors taught for a total of 7 hours with one hour off (probably lunch) thereby indicating a full 8 hour work day was required by each of the four instructors to accommodate the 200 girls and 200 boys.

Finally, the following passage is illuminating:

Much credit is due the four instructors — Lester M. Wilke, Henry (Tink) Rilling, Mrs. Fay Tiaas and William Schildbach — who not only teach the child swimming fundamentals, but help him achieve personal security and poise by mastering his own fears of the water.

The above article clearly states that a female instructor was present teaching the boys swimming classes, who we know were all nude and as old as 14. 
Mrs. Tiaas was also identified teaching these swimming classes in other years as well.     Finally, it also indicates that the last day of classes were open to the parents to come watch the boys and girls swim.   Because the department never furnished swimsuits to boys, it is questionable which boys would opt to bring suits with them, and which would swim nude despite a mix-gender audience watching.

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1951 Sheboygan Press
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It seemed 1954 was not an anomaly, but that female instructors were also teaching the swim classes previously as documented in this 1951 article.   As with all others, it states:  "Swimming suits are furnished to girl swimmers. Swimming suits are not required for boys."

The article goes on to discuss the swimming program that year.  This particular year boys and girls were not separated by time of day but instead different months of the year.   Thus, in November through February, only boys used the pool, and girls then used it after February.  It states that: 

"Afternoon swimming classes have been scheduled for junior high school students. However, if boys and girls are unable participate in recreational swimming during the morning sessions, they are privileged to attend at that time." 

and then...

"The 1:00 to 2:00 p. m. swim
ming class scheduled for boys November I7 to February 16 is specifically designed as a beginners' swimming class and a period to test boys to pass the swimmers' test.  Starting February 23, this class will be scheduled as a girls' beginner swimming class."

When reviewing the list of instructors that year, it states the following:

"Swimming instruction for beginners and advanced boys and girls is provided under the supervision of Lester Wilke and Henry Rilling. The afternoon swimming program is under the supervision of Lloyd Melners and Miss Evelyn Horn."

Fitting all the facts presented in this article, one can only come to the conclusion that "Miss Evelyn Horn"  taught afternoon classes wherein junior high school boys attended those classes naked while under her instruction.

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1957 Sheboygan Press
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The Sheboygan program continued throughout the 1950s with female teachers and assistants participating.  The 1957 article here states:

"Participants will be required to furnish their own towels.   Girls will be required to wear  bathing caps; suits will be furnished.  Boys are not required to wear bathing suits."

Unlike the 1952 article, there were only 2 instructors and a female assistant:

"Lester Wilke and Lloyd Meiners will supervise the swimming sessions with Miss Marabel Harold assisting."








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1957 Sheboygan Press
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In 1957 and about one month after the previous article above that identifies a Miss Maradel Honold as a swim instructor, the Sheboygan Press discusses the swim program again, which included 150 boys.  Ms. Maradel is again mentioned, and, it also reminds parents that only girls, but not boys are supplied swimsuits, although boys are to bring towels.

In addition, the "Red Cross testing" that is mentioned as part of the program was done by representatives of the Red Cross, who were routinely females as evidenced in other articles.  But also interesting in this article is the congratulatory remarks the Sheboygan Press throws at the Department of Public Recreation by discussing how many families came to watch the swimmers: 

"That it [Department] has the approval and support of parents over the community is evidenced in the crowds of mothers and fathers— 650 in all—who filled the pool balcony to capacity throughout the day Saturday, June 22, when the novices demonstrated their prowess for proud families."

Although not stated, it is only conceivable that mothers and fathers would often bring the boys' siblings, which would include sisters.   This lends at least some corroboration to many of the stories we have read on forums and discussion groups whereby writers contend that when they were boys, they recall parents' nights and remember embarrassment as they entered the pool area naked only to see girls their age they knew from school watching them.





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1954 Waukesha Daily Freeman
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As noted in the previous article, Red Cross certificates were provided those passing tests.   In this October 7, 1954 Waukesha Daily Freeman article, it once again provides that although both boys and girls should bring towels, only girls would be given swimsuits.   However, it's interesting to note that the qualified Red Cross instructors included "...Miss Marjorie Stephen, Miss Kitty Harder, and high school assistants."

These same females were noted in providing instructions to the swimmers in other years as well.














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1909 New York Times - City-wide Swimming Competition
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The first evidence we found indicating that boys swam nude at swim meets where family members attended was in this 1909 article printed in the New York Times discussing the city's annual swimming championships wherein nearly 40 schools competed.  Although the article does not address the makeup of the "spectators", other articles found for that period indicate how the Public Schools Athletic League (still in existence) swimming events would see families attending and crowds over 1,000, although they do not discuss nudity with the same specificity as does this one.

The swim competition were shown to be organized by the boys' weight, not age, and although it was identified as a competition for "elementary" schools, weight classes went up to 115 lbs., and then an unlimited "heavy weight" class for boys.   Those weight classes would indicate boys up to high school years in age competed.   Due to the mixed-gender audience, the older boys apparently wore swim trunks.   However, it was not the case for the younger boys, as stated:

"The athletic prowess of the very small boys in the eighty-pound championship was of less moment to the spectators than the enthusiasm of the youngsters, who discovered in their trial heats that their swimming trunks impeded them, and that they could swim faster nude.   Thereafter the rule about trunks went into the discard, and very small boys in a  state of nature swam like tadpoles through the many heats necessary to a decision...."


The above begs the question - how old were the boys that weigh eighty-pounds?   Today, the average weight of an 11-year-old is about 76 pounds, and for 12-year-olds its about 83 lbs.
  However, average weights of children today in the U.S. are higher skewed by childhood obesity.  Further, these were athletic boys and thus probably weighed less than the average weight of boys their age.  Hence, we're guessing these "very small" boys ranged from 11 to 12, and possibly 13 years in age.



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April 18, 1941 Wisconson State Journal - YMCA Swimming Classes
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Evidence of mixed-gender audiences watching nude boys swim can also be found in this 1941 Wisconsin State Journal article.  In the article, Mayor Law applauded the YMCA's swim classes for boys, which indicates they were for males between the ages of 10 and 14.  The article states the policy typical for almost all YMCA's:

"All boys registered for instruction are requested to bring their own towels to each of the classes. Swimming trunks or suits will not be used.  Parents are invited to attend the special exhibition period Saturday afternoon, April 26.   Boys will be awarded YMCA buttons and certificates if they pass a standardized YMCA swimming test at that time."














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June 8, 1948 Lincoln Sunday Journal and Star
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The following is another article that evidences families were allowed to come and watch boys' swim meets at the YMCA.  The age group was again between 10 and high school.   The article establishes that for the YWCA, girls would be provided regulation swimsuits for $.10 rental fee; however, at the YMCA and Northeast High School, which were exclusively for boys, there were no rental fees as the boys were strictly prohibited from wearing swimming trunks in the pool.   The coupon in the newspaper states: "Do NOT bring your own suit", thus reinforcing that all boys must swim in the nude. 

Following this, the coupon states:

"Tests will be given at the end of instruction and an award given to each who passes the examination.  Parents may attend final exercises".  

From the blogs and forums, there is a significant number of men that grew up during this period and contend that they remember taking swimming instructions during their boyhood and up through early teens whereby they attended the class completely nude, and, their instructors were female.  Although many may be dismissed as tall-tales, the evidence found throughout this site, including documented letters written by women and published in newspapers, leads the creators of this website to conclude that there were indeed many situations where it was both accepted and expected that unlike girls, boys would participate in swimming completely nude with the opposite gender present.
 





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June 8, 1960 Waterloo, Iowa Courier
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YMCA programs wherein boys swam nude while also having parents nights for families to come and watch can also be found in this 1960 Iowa paper.   Interestingly, this program offered swim classes for boys up through and including high school.  The article has a coupon that can be clipped out and used to enroll the boys into the program.  It states:

"The climax of our Summer Swim Program gives the parents a chance to see what their boy has learned by attending one of several "Parents Night Swimming Demonstration" held at the YMCA."
 
Next is the following statement in bold to show emphasis:

"We do not encourage the use of bathing suits, but if a boy wishes to wear one, he may"

It should be noted that during the decades encompassing our research, it was common for the national council of the YMCA to furnish recommended policies to the many towns and cities that offered swimming programs.    The coupon presented here was found in other cities during this same time period as well; thus, we believe it probably emanated from the national council.   This would mean that although it may not have been a universal requirement, males attending classes completely nude was most common for the majority of YMCAs.  Some did indeed allow suits whereas others made male nudity when in the pools mandatory.  This is born out by the videos presented as well as the plethora of articles and editorials that discuss this practice easily found by any web search.




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April 22, 1950 Minneapolis Tribune, Minneapolis
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In another YMCA program announcement in the Minneapolis Tribune (predecessor to the Minneapolis Star Tribune) we witness that the well known YMCA "learn to swim" again required all boys to swim nude.   This particular article goes on to cite the local Y's policy that made nude swimming mandatory, and, that this rule must be complied with for all sessions.   It then goes on to indicate that families may attend the final session.   














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1958 Nevada State Journal
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In this article, a Reno YMCA hosts swim classes for boys and girls up to 13 years in age and advertises that only girls are to bring swimsuits. What's interesting is that both course instructors are female - "Jayne Mackins and Myra McCue are in charge".
















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1960 Billings Gazette
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In 1926, the American Public Health Association published the first guidelines for swimming pool management in the United States.  The guidelines were updated every one to three years, as needed. Those guidelines recommended that males must take a soap shower and swim nude. Unadorned, undyed tank suits were recommended for females.  Over time, the YMCA, Boys Clubs of America and most public schools mandated that their their pool management practices must follow APHA guidelines.   The guidelines that set policies for men and boys to use pools only in the nude was not relaxed until 1962.   Thus, prior to 1962, virtually all swimming courses at YMCAs and Boys Clubs of America and the majority of public schools had a requirement that either prohibited males from wearing swim suits when in the pool, or, expressly discouraged it.   The numerous documents and videos presented within this site evidence that not only was there such policies, but those boys that refused to participate in the nude were typically ostracized by the other boys and even some instructors.

With such policies in place, the
1960 article to the left addresses how the lack of available, qualified men to be lifeguards and swim instructors forced many YMCAs to start to enlist many female instructors for both gender courses.   This particular YMCA had 20 female instructors and lifeguards.  In the photo on the top right, Celia Rohar instructs a young John Evans on swimming technique. 

This article in addition to the Reno and Kansas City articles above and below, respectively, clearly evidence that they YMCA employed female instructors to teach swim courses to the boys during this period.




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1954 Kansas City Star
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This 1954 article is very specific about the YMCA learn to swim class being offered in Kansas City.  Note that a Miss Diane Voeks will teach the boys class, and further down, "suits will not be worn by boys".





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