Friday, July 11, 2008

Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America

Author: Jeff Wiltse

First line: In 1898 Boston's mayor Josiah Quincy send Daniel Kearns, secretary of the city's bath commission, to study Philadelphia's bathing pools.

Why you should read this book: The history of municipal swimming pools in America is the history of struggling intersections in race, class, and gender relations. Beginning with bath houses, segregated by gender but mixed by race, installed for the purpose cleansing the working class, moving through an era in which American women expressed greater social freedom through the shrinking of the bathing suit, and exploding in the 60s, as swimming pools become another battleground in the war between racial hostility and the drive toward equality, the narrative unfolds with a kind of clarity available only to historians in hindsight. While the author has a tendency to repeat himself, in general the narrative moves at a good pace, with plenty of statistics, quotes, and historical documentation to demonstrate the function played by swimming pools at different points in the last 120 years and their importance to our American ideals of prosperity, integration, leisure, cleanliness, and social space.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Hydrophobia.

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