Vintage Photography and Film Gallery

Historical Photograph Archive

Following are photographs collected from numerous sources depicting mostly young men and boys swimming, playing at the beach, lake or river completely naked and often with clothed females present.   We have made every effort to assure these are authentic, untouched historical photographs.  

Disclaimer:  The photographs and videos below were obtained from recognized and established historic photo and video archives such as the U.S. Library of Congress, the
Swedish National Archives and various historic archives.   They are all available in the public domain.   These historic materials are presented to educate and make a point.   The nudity featured is in open public places and is innocent, and, no photos or videos have any sexual orientation. 

Vintage Photo - Early 20th Century
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The photo to the left is of unknown origin, probably taken in the late Edwardian period.  In it we observe 17 boys and girls frolicking in a river as they are watched by family and friends.  The age of the boys appear to range from about 8 through 13, and the two girls present appear to be a bit older.  As can be seen, every boy is completely naked whereas the girls wear their bathing costumes.  

This provides indisputable proof that in many communities, not only was it standard that all boys swam and played completely nude, but that it was also not uncommon for girls of their age (although clothed) to swim and play with them.    It also should be considered when debates emerge about whether during the early 20th century females were allowed in the pool areas when public schools or boys associations conducted swim classes for the boys while requiring all boys to be nude.   Although the frequency of females being present can be debated, this photograph suggests that if such a scene could take place in public, then in at least some of these institutions, sisters and coed students may indeed have been allowed to be in the pool areas while the boys swam and competed naked, as well as providing some evidence that female instructors may have taught the boys their swim lessons in some cases.

1900 - The Bathing Lake, Victoria Park, London
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This public swimming park saw first use in 1845 and according to a Lieutenant Colonel that witnessed it, as many a 25,000 users were counted in its waters during its heyday.  The park was 300 feet long with a concrete bottom and diving boards.   As can be seen here, virtually all boys that used it did so completely naked.   With an adjoining park, females were often on the periphery and banks watching the males enjoy themselves, and it was reported that at times children of both genders enjoyed its waters, which given the photos below of Trafalgar Square below, it is probable that the boys did not don their bathing suits despite the presence of girls playing with them.  If one looks closed, females in dresses can be seen on a pier in the background watching the boys.

Trafalgar Square, London - 1919
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In the two photos to the left and right, we see young kids playing in the cool waters of the famous Trafalgar Square in 1919.   If one looks closely to these photos, it is clear that the many boys enjoying the water are almost all nude whereas the girls are all clothed.   The crowd watching attests to how even in large urban settings, boys swimming and playing naked with female siblings and friends was both common and expected.  In the photo on the right, the older boy on the right who appears to be about 11 years in age is surrounded by girls as he dresses, and it can be seen that he is fully nude. 

Trafalgar Square, London - 1912
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The photo below shows Trafalgar square a few years prior to the above photos.  The girls are wearing the ultra-conservative dress that evolved during the previous Victorian era, which marks a high degree modesty and concealment of most of their bodies.  The boys are enjoying the fountain in the same manner they would have enjoyed any river or seaside beach, fully nude and while in the immediate presence of girls their age.
  Of course, such display of nudity today, including any photographer that would photography the boys in such a way, would immediately be assailed upon by the authorities and the "morality police" of our politically correct society.  But a century ago, it was both acceptable and normal for boys to be seen au natural at many beaches and watering spots throughout our western societies.  

Dancing Ledge, Dorset, England - Early 20th Century

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In the early 20th century, the rocky shore at Dancing Ledge was a popular gathering area used by girls and boys of a number of local preparatory school.   As the photo to the left reveals, all boys - without exception, enjoyed the shore completely naked.  Also shown in the photo are a number of women, and in the background there appears to be families gathering, including girls around the same age, yet none are nude.

 Early 20th Century Photo (source unknown)

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Here we see a naked boy around 11 or 12-years-old at a public beach.   As reported in some of the news articles and journals of the day, it was not uncommon for boys up to 15 or 16 years in age to be found enjoying the seaside in the nude and in a mixed gender setting throughout the Victoria Era.   One woman writes of her experiences in witnessing this, as well as her favorable position towards males practicing such nudity here:

Traveller's Journal - 1882

Vintage Photo - First Half of 20th Century (date unknown)
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The photo to the left shows a shoreline with boys and girls enjoying the water.  What is poignant about this photo is the nude boy in the background.   A girl about his same age turns to look at him, and as she does, he hides his genitals in embarrassment.  This photo is of importance as it evidences what we have read in many accounts written by those that were boys during that era who had objected to being forced to be nude in such settings, particularly because they were embarrassed having their genitals on display for girls their same age, and understandably so.  Regardless, parents and guardians often saw this embarrassment and reluctance of boys being naked in the presence of girls their age as absurd with fathers scoffing at such boys as silly and a a sign of being a "sissy".

Vintage Photo - Date Unknown
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Another photo of boys swimming on a lake shore in the early 20th Century.   There are many newspaper accounts and stories that told of how women and girls would often walk by such lake fronts and rivers as boys of all ages and even sometimes grown men swam in such state with the general response being the boys were unconcerned of their presence.   In one such story an adolescent boy said "the girls were upset because they couldn't play in the river under the bridge with the boys because we didn't wear trousers, but when we told them they could swim with us and they joined in, there was never anymore fuss.  Of course the girls always wore their suits."  

Some objected to such "indecent" exposure and called for laws banning such practice whereas others, including many of the same females that witnessed it, were in favor of letting the men and boys enjoy it nude.  Ultimately, it lead to the creation of ordinances that prohibited it altogether.

Boys Swimming in River at Bronx Park, NY - 1922
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In the photo to the left, a group of naked boys at various ages swam in the river that is part of the Bronx Park and next to the famous historical Bronx Zoo.   The photo evidences that during this period, boys swam nude at many public swimming areas, even in the US.

Mid-20th Century Photo (source unknown)
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The origins of this photo are unknown.   What is noteworthy is that this group of people are at a public beach and the three boys in foreground, one of whom appears to be about 10 or 11 years of age, are all naked, although all older males wear bathing suits.

Vintage Photograph - 1940s

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In this photo, we see several children playing on a backyard slide.   As can be seen, the girls are wearing pants to protect their modesty.   The boy, however, is completely naked.  Again, society deemed very appropriate dress for the respective genders during this era. 

Vintage Photograph - 1919

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So accustomed were boys to swimming in the nude at public swimming areas that these two boys thought nothing of walking down this open road completely naked to get to their swimming spot as opposed to waiting until they arrive to undress. 

Boys Swimming in the Outdoors with Girls
(date unknown)
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A number of the stories posted in our "Stories" section recount times in the early-to-mid 20th century wherein the writer talks about days wherein all boys that swam in nearby creeks, rivers and ponds did so in the nude.  In the second part of the three-part video documentary presented on our "YMCA/Schools Videos" page, the opening scene from the 1960 Walt Disney movie "Pollyanna"  shows a group of boys skinny-dipping in a river showing them completely naked from the back side.  Bear in mind this movie was intended to be seen by the entire family; thus, seeing boys completely naked at a river bank was considered a normal experience for anyone regardless of age or gender as late as 1960.

The two photos to the right and left feature boys swimming nude while clothed girls swim with them.  In the one to the left, an adult male seems to be monitoring the affair thus approving of the naked-boy/clothed-girl swimming situation.   In the one to the right, a girl watches a bevy of naked boys frolic about in the water.  Although this would be inconceivable during our present era, it evidences that in the 1960s and before, it was often considered to be perfectly acceptable for girls to view nude boys swimming.   

Boys Swimming Classes With Female Monitors/Instructors
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As discussed in detail within the Archives - Early 20th Century & After section of this website, swim classes for boys routinely mandated that all boys were to participate in the nude up through the mid 20th century with some schools and public pools keeping the policy as late as the 1970s.   This was due to both custom and the crude water filtration systems of the era, which were easily clogged by the cotton and wool fibers of bathing suits.   It should be noted that girls were never required to swim nude, but instead, unlike the boys, swimsuits were furnished females to protect their modesty and pride.   No evidence has ever been presented wherein coed swim classes were allowed at any school or public pool during the era when boys swam nude, and classes were always segregated by gender, although a number of anecdotal stories have been published evidencing embarrassing accidents when the girl swim class entered the pool area while boys were in the same pool area, or, when girls would be able to peer into the pool area through the doors while the boys swam in the raw.

A common question asked is whether there was institutionalized practice wherein females were in the pool area while the naked boys swam.   There is undisputed evidence that during this era females were allowed or required to be in the swim area at times the boys were taking the swim classes.   These two photos, which are from Sweden, evidence that around the turn of the last century, in certain locations it was routine for women to monitor the nude boys' swimming lessons.    And although no comparable photo could be found for the U.S., we have on this site published announcements from newspapers up through the 1950s that for the Boy's Learn-to-Swim programs wherein it is indicated that all boys must swim in the nude, and, that the final swim classes would be open to families to see the boys take the swimming test necessary to receive their YMCA swimming certificates.  Numerous stories evidence that such attendance was not only by fathers and mothers, but brothers and sisters as well.    As discussed elsewhere, as societal customs changed and adults began to be more sensitive to the humiliation these boys' endured, particularly when forced to be naked in front of females their age during such "family nights",  public schools and organized swimming programs increasingly began to allow the boys to wear swimming trunks at such times.

Historical Film Archive

Historic 1912 Flim Archive - European Seaside

Historic Film Archive - 1912 through 1924

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This video features rare historic footage of the European coast and swimming eras roughly towards the end of the Edwardian Era.   The footage is consistent with some of the books, journals and articles posted on this site addressing the last days on an era wherein men and boys swam in the nude at public venues, even when in the presence of females.   Towards the end of this era, virtually all men and some boys began wearing swimming trunks in public watering places.  However, consistent with the written documentation presented on the other sub-pages, there were still a few men that continued the practices established in the early Victorian Era of swimming naked.

In the video capture top on the right taken approximately 20 seconds into the video, a lone man who has just completed his swimming appears to be stark naked as he stands in front of a packed, mix-gender crowd on the rocky shore.    Then, as can be seen in the video capture
to the right taken about 27 seconds into the film, there is no question that a completely naked young man walks right past a group of men in women playing in the surf.  One cannot be sure, but it appears that at least one of the men laying in the waters may also be nude.  One woman talks to the naked young man as he passes and continues to watch him with interest; however, all seem to respond that his being complete nude and walking about in the presence of women is unremarkable and something they may have seen numerous times before.

As the film progresses it takes you to the shores of a sandier beach with dunes.   The video shows a man that has stripped naked run across the sand into the water.  It then shows a group of people including a number of young women also on the beach, but dressed in the very conservative dress typical of the late Victorian Era.   Subsequently, it shows where the man was running, and it was to join a group of about a dozen or more men and boys jumping around in the surf, as can be seen in the video capture to the left.  All are stark naked.  This film evidences the dichotomy of conservative dress of the era.   When walking about at seaside resorts and along the boardwalk, men and women alike were both expected to dress conservatively.  Men are always seen wearing hats, and never were men to expose their chest or arms.  And it was consider vulgar for any woman to let a man see her ankles in public.    Yet despite this culture, a woman could readily see a man that otherwise would wear conservative dress completely stark naked from head-to-foot when at certain beaches, which would surely get him arrested for indecent exposure today despite our far more liberal view on dress and bathing suits.

As can be seen in the video capture to the left, at approximately 1:33 minutes into the film, the scene changes to a lakefront swimming area.   The swimming area is bifurcated by a tall fence that stretches from the beach huts into the first approximately 20 feet of the lake.  The dividing line is to separate the genders, which was common at many seaside and lakeside resorts in the 19th century due to the men ususally swimming nude.   The era here is evidenced by more of the men wearing bathing trunks, although a few still appear to be nude.  However, must of the boys in the early teens and younger are still completely nude. 

It should be noted that even though a fence prevents each gender from viewing the other while still on the beach, one can see that upon walking into the lake one is only in about a foot of water when the fence ends, thus allowing the women to see the men and boys from below their knees and up.  The genders frolic in the waters only a matter of feet apart.

At about 3:15 into the video, the scene once again changes to what appears to be a shallow bay front with thousands of people at play.   Most of the men and boys are nude, and there seems to be a general separation of the genders; however, there is overlap.   Women and girls can be seen walking about areas where the males are at.   In the video capture to the right, two young females walk amongst a group of boys, several of which are stark naked.


Children at Lakeside circa 1912

Historic Film Archive - 1912
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This video also features rare historic footage of the European swimming practices as of 1912, and shows both boys and girls playing together in the water without any separation.   As one can see, virtually all boys younger than about 11 or so are completely stark naked whereas all girls, without exception, are wearing swimsuits.  The acceptability of the age of boys that would swim nude slowly decreased from the mid 19th century onward, and in this video it seems that boys that were over, say, 12, would wear suits.   However, as found in other documents within this site on adjoining sub-pages, boys up to 16 years in age were seen gallivanting completely naked with females present at certain seaside areas in the UK up through the late 19th century.

1912: Young Men - European Lake Swimming

Young Men Swimming in European Lake - 1912
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The video to the right shows historic footage of young men swimming at a lake.  Again, during this period we begin to see inconsistencies in how these young men are dressed.  Bathing suits are becoming less of a stigma evidencing a lack of masculinity and we can see several of the fellows are wearing them.  However, they are still a minority as most are nude.

Fernden Scouts - 1939 Family Swim Day

1939 - Fernden Swimming Sports - Family Swim Meet
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One area of spirited discussion revolves around many swim programs hosted by institutions such a public schools, community centers, YMCA and Boy Scouts during the 19th and 20th centuries, which both required boys to swim nude, and, offered family days attended by mother, sisters and other females to watch the nude boys compete and earn awards or certificates.   The documentation on this website seems to indicate mixed gender audiences during swim meets wherein the boys swam may have been more common prior to World War II, although evidence on this site indicates that females were indeed swim instructors of a few such programs up until the 1960s.   The video to the left was shot in July, 1939, and between 1:40 and 7:00 minutes in the film we see a swim meet at Fernden School, which was tied to the Boy Scout program that summer and located on the school's 54 acres in Haslemere, England.    The video reveals that in lieu of a locker room, there is an outdoor changing area with a bench immediately next to the pool, and is comprised of simply a roof and back wall on the opposite side of the pool but no wall on the front and completely open to the pool.    As we watch the video, we see that the film is being shot from bleachers next to the pool on the opposite side of the changing area.   The pool is extremely narrow with only 4 boys able to swim lengthwise at a time, thus the audience benches are 20 or 30 feet away from the changing area. 

During this period in time, the Boy Scouts allowed boys from 11 to 16 to join, and gauging by the height of some of the older boys, a few who are as tall as the adults, the Scouts/students appear to match that age range.   The boys were expected to come into the pool area then go straight to the changing area where they would strip completely naked, put on their swim trunks, then enter the pool.   No boy is shown wearing trunks before coming into the pool area, so it's reasonably concluded all boys changed in that changing area..   As typical, after swimming the boys would remove their trunks and dry off before putting their clothes back on.  Although the film is old and resolution is poor, the fact that all boys wore the same color uniforms as well as the same dark colored swim trunks, it is easy to discern the boys that are still in their clothes or swim trunks versus the boys that are completely nude.  Fully nude boys can be seen drying off or standing next to the pool throughout the video, but most notably at 3:35, 4:29 and 5:43.

But more important to note is the presence of both girls and adult women watching the whole time.  At the beginning, at 1:57 prior to the meet as the boys are playing, we see a young girl standing at the edge of the pool watching the boys offering evidence that families, sisters and mothers were probably also present and watching.   At  5:37, the camera follows four boys swimming a sprint and as they pass the changing area we see boys standing naked at the edge of the pool drying off, with one naked boy facing the pool and watching the swimmers as he dries his hair uncovered from his chest down with his genitals on full display to the spectators less than 10 yards away.  The camera continues panning and we then see a girl with pigtails sitting on the front row directly in front of the boy.   Even though she could possibly be a classmate, he's unconcerned about her seeing his genitals and walks off to the side without covering himself while holding his towel up to his face.  At 4:29 we see a group of three teenage boys naked and drying themselves off - they aren't even in the changing area under the roof, but instead standing nude near the edge of the pool and can be clearly seen by the same girl.   We also see females throughout the video in the background trees, and the diving competition at 3:36 is being judged by a woman.   During the ceremonies where the boys receive their awards, they are being handed out by women, and as one boy runs back to the bleachers, we see just how large is the mixed-gender crowd that has been watching.

This film provides important historical evidence of several things.  First, such family days and family nights where all could come and watch were, at least as shown in this video, attended by mothers, sisters and other females wherein the boys could be viewed completely naked up close.   Second, the naked boys were not toddlers, as indicated previously, the scouts would only take boys 11 years and older, which is the age group here wherein the boys' ages are not capped at, say, 10, but instead none are under 11 and range upward.   Some of the boys even appear to be their upper teens and are as tall as adults.  And third, the boys remaining nude at times other than disrobing seemed to be very acceptable and perfectly appropriate by all there.  For instance, although there is one or two shots showing apparently embarrassed boys being very stealthy in slipping discretely out of their clothes and into their shorts while wearing shirts with tails to conceal their nudity (see 1:43), or, stand by the pool and watch the other boys with a towel around their waist, other boys are far less modest and can be seen standing there in the nude facing the pool and watching, or, walking about naked.  In fact, so comfortable are some of the boys in being nude in front of the females that they ventured out of the changing area naked.   At 3:35 we see two naked boys not in the changing area but at the end of the pool twirling their bathing suits.

We must remember, however, this was a different era.  Women were eschewed from competing with a man on any job, but instead considered their place was in the home doing domestic activities for the head of the household - the "man of the house".  In the southern U.S., African Americans were denied being able to use the same facilities as whites.  Such cultural attitudes would be considered wrongful if not illegal during today's era, as would requiring teenage boys to not only strip naked as part of a sporting event, but to do so as females their same age looked on.  Yet this video proves it happened.