The History of Nudism
Nudism and the Bible
When the word nudism is mentioned, the first thought is of Adam and Eve. The Biblical Book of Genesis states at the end of Chapter 2 in verse 25 that The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. In Chapter 3, after Adam and Eve eat of the fruit of the tree, they become aware of their nakedness and cover themselves in shame. Because nudism, or naturism, today exists in a cultural, social and political context, Adam and Eve would not be considered true social nudists. Only two people existed in the world, therefore, there was no true society, or culture or political arena. There however, are Christian nudists who believe that Adam and Eve covering their bodies in shame was the true sin. God made the human body and God never created anything evil or ugly. In addition, throughout the Bible there are references to prophetic nudism, such as Saul laying nude to have a vision and joyful nudism such as King David dancing naked for joy when the Ark of the Covenant arrived in Jerusalem. However, these were various incidents and not a culture as a whole practicing nudism. The true origins of nudism would have to be traced to the Ancient Egypt and to the Greek and Roman Empires. It was in those arenas that the first forms of nudism as cultural, social, and political foundations were laid. Nudism has played an important part of the world’s development and has evolved and flowed along many political and social climates, from the origins in Greece to Victorian England, to the Renaissance period experienced in both Europe and America into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Nudism in Ancient Egypt
Tablets from Ancient Egypt were discovered that proved Pharaoh Akhen-Aton (1385 – 1353 B.C.) and his wife Nefertiti, considered the sun to be the wellspring of life, and for this reason practiced nudism and sun bathing for both physical health and for spiritual reasons. Victorian archaeologists who discovered the tablets were critical as they discovered through tablets and wall carvings that the Pharaoh and his wife, along with the Egyptian court, practiced nudism not only in the swimming pools, but also in the royal gardens and palace. While ancient Egyptians embraced nudism, Jews of the time viewed nudity as culturally embarrassing. Most captive Jews were made to be naked and were often whipped upon the bare buttocks. Those Jews who fought in the gladiator arenas often covered their glans with sheep or ram gut to conceal the fact that they were circumcised as this was particular to their race. Otherwise, they were often laughed at and looked upon with derision.
Nudism in Ancient Greece and Rome
Centuries after Pharaoh Akhen-Aton’s reign, Greek culture began a movement towards holistic living. The Greek culture of that time considered the human body to be aesthetically pleasing and a work of beauty. Greek culture considered depictions of the naked human body to be not only normal, but beautiful, not in terms of eroticism, but rather as they appreciated the arts and nature. The Greeks were known for their athleticism and training in gymnasiums, which when literally translated, means a place to train naked. In ancient Rome and in ancient Greece, public nudism was acceptable not only in the sports arena, but also in terms of public bathing. The dress style of both the ancient Greek and Roman cultures allowed for easy release from clothing. The draped clothing could be taken off with just the simple release of the shoulder clips. The gymnasiums themselves were not merely places to exercise, but were also forums where music, philosophy, and general education were taught. The worship of the Greek and Roman gods meant that these cultures tried to not only please their gods, but to also imitate them. There could be no greater worship, by their beliefs, than to develop their bodies both mentally and physically to the best of their abilities. The major schools of philosophy, music, and art were all housed in gymnasiums. Even as religion began to decline and be replaced by philosophy, nudism as a social, cultural and political movement was still popular. Socrates advocated nudity as a form of honesty.
Nudism and the Olympic Games
The Olympic Games featured a tradition of nudity. Historians believe that the Olympic Games began around 1100 B.C. as peace contests among the kings of the various Greek cities such as Pisa and Sparta. By 776 B.C., the Olympic Games had become a homage to the Greek gods. Historians believe that the Spartans were the first to remove their clothing during training and competition. The nude Spartans won the majority of the games and events. The rest of Greek society noticed that the Spartans were able to win because they were not hampered and weighed down by clothing. Nudity remained an important part of not only the Olympic Games, but also the various other Panhellenic Games. It is thought that not only did nudity give athletes a competitive edge, nudity also allowed the judges to ensure there was no cheating. Evidence, in the forms of works of art and statues, such as the work Milo of Croton, exists today proving that the Greeks honored nudism and athleticism. The Olympics continued on in this way and Greek and Roman culture became widely known and regarded throughout the years.
In 393 A.D., Christian Roman Emperor Theodosium believed the Olympic Games to be pagan rituals and had them banned. This led to the athletes and philosophers and the gymnasium itself, to be treated with disdain. The gladiator games, which had also been fought in the nude, were abandoned along with the Olympic Games. The view by Christians that nudity was a sin became the norm and began to spread through Europe.
Nudism and Ancient India
At the same time that Greece and Rome were experiencing their freedom from clothing and celebrating the mind and body, ancient holy men from India were also experiencing the trend of gymnos, the act of being naked, and had several sects of gymnosophists , or nude philosophers. Alexander the Great was so impressed by the reports of these men, that he sent his own philosophers to India to meet and exchange ideas. Alexander himself traveled to India and met with these philosophers and holy men, impressed as he was by the reports from his Greek traveling philosophers. This led to many cultural interchanges between the two countries. There were a large number of ascetic sects in India who lived and practiced their beliefs in the nude during this time period. Buddha was a nude ascetic prior to founding his own religion. It has been mused that perhaps Buddha and his followers began wearing robes merely to distinguish themselves from other sects. There are still naked holy men in India today, most associated with the holy sect of the Jains, an ancient Indian religion that was formed back around 500 B.C. Unlike the Greek and Romans however, the Jains did not practice nudity as an expression of freedom and appreciation for the human body and art and nature. Rather, the Jains practiced nudity as a form of piety, in that giving up all their worldly goods, they also gave up clothing. It is thought by Historians and scholars that while the Greeks focused primarily on the emphasis of beauty, knowledge and fun, the India gymnosophists referred to their nudity as an act toward gaining spiritual enlightenment and becoming one with the universe. The tie that seemed to bind the two cultures together was the idea of peace that both the Olympic Games and the Janis religion practiced. Just as the Christian control of Greece and Rome led to the ending of the gymnasium and the Olympic Games, the British control of India led to the curtailing of gymnosophist practices.
Nudism and the Orient
Unlike India, Greece and Rome, the Orient had entirely different views on nudity and the practice of nudism. Until recently, the Japanese participated in nude communal bathing, and some smaller rural areas still practice this tradition today. While ancient Japanese art has no nudity depicted in it, this is not because they viewed nudity as a sin. The Japanese simply enjoyed becoming tangled in each other’s clothing when becoming intimate. Communal nude bathing by the Japanese which began as a Shinto purification rite, become the standard and the norm. In addition, Japan has numerous hot springs which led to nude family and mixed bathing being approved by the various religions for over two thousand years. Members of the Chinese race had entirely different views on nudity. The upper class believed nudity to be something that only peasants would practice. Their art reflects no nudity because they believed it to be highly immoral. The Chinese views of nakedness as a sin extended as far as to consider the paintings of the Christian saints as immoral because they were depicted in loose, flowing robes. The Chinese upper class woman could not even disrobe in front of her doctor. Each upper class Chinese woman carried a tiny statue made of either alabaster or ivory and used the statue to point to the area of the body that was giving her a problem.
Nudity During The Middle Ages
After the abolishment of the Olympics and the fall of the Roman Empire, the Christian Reformation spread throughout Europe and nudity came to be considered a sin. It was at this time that the Middle Ages occurred which fluctuated on how nudity and nudism was viewed. In the beginning of the Middle Ages, society was dominated by priests who had restrictive views towards nudity, women, and sexuality. It was to no avail for nudists and naturists to try to explain that nakedness had nothing to do with eroticism or sexuality. This view held for quite awhile, then in the middle of the Middle Ages, attitudes became more open. This was the time of the Renaissance where troubadours, chivalry, and an admiration for women and art became noted. Nude art and statues were not merely limited to religious themes, but began celebrating the form of the naked human. There seems to be a direct correlation between the artistic burgeoning and the freedom of body movement experienced by those living in this age. Granted, nudism was not practiced to the same extent as it was in the Greco-Roman times, however, the human shape was no longer something of which to be ashamed. These attitudes and feelings prevailed until the 16th Century and the rise of John Calvin and Martin Luther.
Nudism And The Reformation
John Calvin was a Frenchman who became the founder of the Presbyterian Church. Outraged by what he viewed as the wealth and pomposity of the Catholic Church as well as a declining moral view by the leaders of the Church, he began to protest loudly. As this endangered his life, he fled to Switzerland and began the teachings that would soon lead to the forming of the Presbyterian Church. Calvin also became known as the founder of the puritan ethic. Martin Luther, a monk from Germany, became known as The Father of the Reformation. In 1517, after deciding like Calvin, that the Catholic Church was abusing its authority and losing moral ground, he broke with the Pope to form the Protestant Lutheran Church. He used his authority to bring a fundamentalist view of religion to his followers. With the rise of the Protestant rule, came interpretations of the Bible which stressed heavily the sin of humans, and focused on the human body as being weak and lustful. Puritans even refused to bathe because they believed being naked was an act of depravity. Puritans were advised to only bathe that which could be seen, therefore only the hands, face, neck and arms were washed. In addition, the arts suffered as poetry, dramas, and fiction were considered a wasteful use of time and a sin. Again, the correlation between the clothing of the era and the arts has been questioned. The clothing of the time period reflected the feelings of sin and lust. Dress was generally in clothes of dark colors and very stiff. Women were covered in clothing which compressed their breasts and cinched in the waist. Both men and women wore ruffs which were so high and stiff that men and women alike had trouble turning their heads.
Early America And Nudism
This period in history and views on sin and lust in relation with the human body carried into the settling of America. In 1620, the pilgrims traveled on the Mayflower to America. These Pilgrims were also Puritans, and brought with them the habit of clothing themselves from head to toe in unadorned garments. They also refused to bathe. These strict views were more common in America than they were in the majority of Europe. The body shame and feelings of guilt about being nude were pervasive throughout America, as the Puritans were the only settlers. In Europe, the feelings about nudity and sin were mainly restricted to the middle-class. The aristocrats and the lower classes were both prone to take liberties with the religious views. As America entered into an age of Puritanism and witch-hunts, the Napoleonic era began in Europe.
Nakedness During The Napoleonic Era
With the rise of Napoleon and his empress Josephine, the consideration of the body as a sin and nakedness as being entirely for lust, moved from the forefront. Ladies began to show their shoulders, arms and chests in the evening. Styles went from laced and covered to a more diaphanous neo-classical style. Women began wearing loose, flowing garments again. Nudity in the arts began to flourish once again as artists such as Goya were commissioned by Napoleon for statues and paintings. Acceptance of the body became the norm once again. This lasted in Europe until the rise of Queen Victoria and the Victorian era. From 1837-1901, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert reigned over England and set the patterns of dress and conduct for that time period.
The Victorian Age
Shame regarding the body and nakedness was such that women began covering all portions of the body that could be seen, with the exception of their faces. Women’s dress consisted of layers of petticoats that prevented the outline of her figure from being shown. Clothing reached from neck to toe, and shawls were worn to prevent even a glimpse of an outline of her shoulders. Bonnets and lace caps covered the head and gloves were worn upon the hands. Even while eating dinner, women either wore gloves or fingerless mittens to keep their hands from showing and bringing about feelings of lust. Men wore trousers that were loose and were expected to wear a shirt, vest and coat. Overcoats were frequently layered on top of the clothing. Hats were also in vogue, as it was shameful to bare the head. Nudity was seen as such a sin that even bathing suits covered both men and women from head to toe. Women, although covered from head to toe, were still not allowed to be seen in their bathing suits. Beaches were segregated and the use of bathing machines was employed. Bathing machines were wooden structures, covered with canvas, which were taken down into the water and allowed women to enjoy the ocean water. They entered the machines, changed from their street clothing into their bathing suits, then the machine was rolled down into the water. Women then exited the machine by a series of steps and were allowed to partake of the ocean as long as they stayed behind the machine and out of sight of others. When they were ready to come back to shore, they entered the machine and raised a small flag which told the beach employees to come bring the machines to shore. Not only was nudity seen as a sin in humans, people began to fear that even the legs of chairs and pianos would cause depravity. Furniture legs were covered and even the language was changed. The word breast was not allowed, a chicken breast was simply referred to as white meat. Art suffered at this time as well. The works of Shakespeare were rewritten by another with all references to the body or sexuality removed. Paintings of nudes were forbidden, unless they depicted innocent cherubs. The statues from the Greek and Roman times that had joyfully depicted and celebrated the human body were either fig leafed, loin clothed, or mutilated.
Perhaps the worst travesty of the Victorian Era was the treatment afforded various native cultures by missionaries and Great Britain colonists. Unconcerned about the various hierarchies in Africa and India or the tribal customs, the British of the Victorian Era insisted that the natives conform and wear clothing similar to theirs. Not only did they force their clothing choices upon these proud people, they also punished them for failure to adhere to their guidelines. Natives were made to feel ashamed and embarrassed for appearing in tribal garments or for appearing nude. Tribal natives, unused to clothing, had no idea how to repair the clothing and it often fell apart on their bodies. Various tribes also did not have the means or knowledge to create new clothing, so they often wore the same clothing over and over again. They began to no longer bathe for fear of damaging the clothes and thus became unclean. As they gave up bathing, just like the Europeans, they also began to sicken and to die. Disease and death were rampant in Victorian England, and then became rampant among the tribes of Africa and in British occupied India.
As with any cultural change, there was a backlash against the body shame forced upon people by Victorian England. Thomas Carlyle, an educated man, and a proponent of nudism wrote a dissertation challenging the wearing of clothing. In this discussion he brought up the moral and religious influence of wearing clothes. He theorized that people would be healthier and happier if they forsook clothing. Benjamin Franklin, on visit from America, wrote about the health benefits of air bathing. He was often seen swimming nude (skinny dipping) in the Thames. In Switzerland, many noted physicians who were treating the epidemic of tuberculosis that gripped England and Europe wrote of the benefits of sunlight and air on the naked body.
The American Renaissance
At the same time that England was gripped by the Victorian Era and bodily shame, America was undergoing a Renaissance. The puritan colonials that had settled America were dead and gone leaving behind their descendants. The fact that America prevailed over Britain in the Revolutionary War, gave Americans the idea that they could now focus on free and independent thinking. Nudity again became acceptable. Some of the greatest Renaissance minds in America included Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Benjamin Franklin, and President John Quincy Adams. Each of these men not only praised the taking of daily nude air baths, but also advocated nude swimming. President Adams could be seen frequently swimming and bathing naked in the Potomac. Walt Whitman wrote that man and nature could only be close if both were naked. He told of how the clothed in the cities were the ones who were dying of disease and illnesses and that nudity is not a crime or a sin, rather it is fear and the longing for respectability and power among the classes that is the real sin. By the same token, Henry David Thoreau stated numerous times in his writings that we must be naked to begin to even comprehend the glory of Nature. He also advocated that whatever other people believed in, be it God or Nature or the Sun, or just the spirit of the Earth, man would never be able to comprehend it if he did not practice nudism and rid himself of articles such as clothing that man allowed to come between himself and his other. Mark Twain also mentioned the joy of nudism in his books on Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, which often had the boys skinny dipping in joy and freedom.
Not only were statesman and noted authors bringing the message of nudism, but also other arts were enjoying a body Renaissance. In France, a Renaissance of painting was being enjoyed. Henri Matisse and other painters were thumbing their noses at Victorian England by painting works in bright, bold, colors, and bringing back the use of nudes in a joyful manner. Called Fauves or wild beasts, the Fauve painters began to celebrate the body with paintings of nude men and women dancing in joy and abandon. Some of the most famous painters of modern time emerged from the Fauve period including Matisse, Marquet, Manguin, and Rouault. Again, a correlation between the world’s most famous art and the acceptance of nudism must be drawn.
As England was stuck and grounded in the Victorian Age, the Renaissance experienced in America and France began to spread around Europe. Although, at this point in time, nudism was accepted, it was only practiced by a small amount of the population. This acceptance spread to Germany, where it took a firm foothold and paved the way for not only acceptable nudism, but also the naturist movement.
As the twentieth century began, and nudism became more acceptable in America, a movement called naturism began to spread across Europe. Queen Victoria’s reign was at an end and people were tired of being constrained by various layers of clothing. Although France had shed the Victorian image earlier and Switzerland was gaining acclaim for the practice of healthful nudism, the genuine naturism movement began in Germany.
Nudism is simply defined as the act of being naked and is generally referred to a person or people who practice being nude within the confines of their home or community. Nudism is usually practiced with friends and family, and has no real philosophy beyond that of the freedom of being nude. Naturism on the other hand, is not only nudism, it is nudism with a specific philosophy. Jean Baptiste Luc Planchon, a Belgian who had spent time in France, first used the word naturism. Jean Baptiste coined the phrase to refer to a means of improving both life and health. Americans use the words nudism and naturism interchangeably, while in Europe they have profoundly different meanings. Naturism advocates and promotes not only nudism, but also practices it as a lifestyle which generally includes respect for the Earth, healthy eating, abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, the practice of yoga and other meditative mind and body exercises, and the resistance to violence. The social nudist movement included a broad spectrum between family nudism and naturism. The first of these ranges can be traced to Germany in the early 1900′s.
Germany and the Rise of Naturism
In the early 1900′s in Germany, a movement called Freikorperkultur (Free Body Culture) arose. This movement was the first real organization of social nudism. It was a time of the shedding of not only clothes, but also the hidebound values and thinkings left from Victorian England. In the early 1900′s, several noted authors published papers which advocated the removal of clothing as well as an enlightened thinking about the human body. It implored citizens to quit thinking of the human body as sinful and shameful. A book entitled The Cult of the Nude written by noted German sociologist Heinrich Pudor, promoted naturist theories. It must be noted that at this time, the word “cult” had not taken on the negative connotations of today. At that point in history, cult merely meant a movement. In his book, Pudor promoted taking part in sports while free of clothing in order to allow the body freedom of movement. He also stated that participating in this nudism and combining it with sunlight, fresh air baths, and the philosophy of naturism all combined would contribute to both physical and mental fitness and health. This body acceptance movement spread rapidly throughout Europe into the 1920′s. Not only were sociologists and everyday people embracing nudism or naturism, doctors across Europe united in a Natural Healing Movement and began subscribing air baths, sun bathing, and clothing-free aspects of living in order to treat such diseases as rheumatoid arthritis, tuberculosis, and scrofula. The nudism or naturism movement was briefly interrupted from 1914-1918 during World War I. After the end of World War I, the movement regained strength and continued to strongly move across Europe. Special beaches and parks for those practicing nudism and naturism that had closed during the war were reopened. Among these were Freilichtpark , which had originally opened in 1903 by Paul Zimmerman near Hamburg, Germany. Literally translated, Freilichtpark means Free Light Park. Paul Zimmerman named the park thusly, stating that by experiencing textile free living, and embracing the world around them, humans were emerging from the dark into the light. After World War I, around 1920, there were over 200 parks reserved for those who enjoyed practicing nudism and naturism. These parks were promoted as a way for man to get back to his roots with nature and to promote good mental and physical health. Not only were the healthy aspects embraced, but the Europeans who were worn down and battle weary from four long years of war, embraced these ideas for the Utopian society they portrayed. In the mid part of the 1920′s around 1926, socialists saw this movement as a way to further their ideals of eliminating the social classes. The movement was also endorsed as being a method of practicing pacifism.
Naturism and the Rise of Hitler
Nudism and naturism continued the growing trend it had been enjoying since the 1920′s. As Hitler began his rise to power, nudism was first embraced and enjoyed a rise in popularity and in prominence. It became extremely popular with Gleichschaltung, which is a term meaning coordination, and was the process used by the Nazi party to establish their control over Europe. The party celebrated the health benefits and the idea of body acceptance. Hitler also believed in the message of making the body as physically and mentally close to perfection as possible, naturism and nudism and their ideologies of attaining good health fit in line with his hopes for a perfect Aryan race. By 1933 however, Hitler had fallen out of the good graces of the pacifist nudism and naturism practitioners and began having Hermann Goring pass laws limiting the mingling of the different sexes. As Europe under Hitler’s regime descended into a quagmire of what Hitler saw as moral and correct, Hitler began to believe that because the nudists and naturists practiced pacifism, that the camps and parks were also a place for homosexuals and for Marxists. Hitler and Goring then banned the various parks and camps and passed laws banning the practice of nudism.
Hitler was successful at banning these parks and clubs for exactly one month. Too many of the SS enjoyed partaking of the healthful benefits and continued to practice nudism. Hitler relented and began allowing the practice of nudism and naturism again, with full support of the state government. However, he did require that all nudist clubs and camps register with the Kraft durch Freude. Kraft durch Freude translates into strength through joy and was the name for the state controlled leisure organization in Nazi Germany. It’s aim was to promote tourism and to make daily activities and fun events accessible to the middle class. By including nudism and naturism, the Nazi Party hoped to overcome the distrust it was experiencing by some. Since it was regulated by the state however, this ensured that no Jews, Communists, gypsies or other undesirables could be a part of the nudism and naturism movement. Hitler also insisted that all nudist activities were kept confined to rural areas so that the rest of Europe and the world did not look upon Germans as being depraved. Hitler completely missed the point that nudism and naturism had nothing to do with sexuality.
Nudism in Germany after World War II
After World War II, Germany again enjoyed being the area of Europe to promote nudism and naturism. A country so bombarded by war, longed to return to the ways of pacifism and to again promote a oneness with nature. With Germany split into two factions, nudism was practiced on both sides of the Berlin Wall, although a bit differently. In East Berlin and East Germany, people were allowed to practice nudism and naturism. However, their practice was limited to the free beach and parks set aside for nudists and naturists. The former clubs and organizations that practicer’s of nudism had enjoyed prior to the war were banned by the East German government for fear that they would become beds of sedition and subversiveness. West Germany began to enjoy not only their beaches and parks again, but also their various clubs and organizations. As visitors from other countries came to Germany and came face to face with nudism, the idea began to grow and spread across Europe once again. Areas of the Mediterranean, wishing to lure Germans to the country for tourism also began practicing nudism and naturism and setting aside beach areas and parks. Along the Mediterranean coast in France, nude beaches, resorts, and colonies began to come to life. In fact, Germans are the most commonly seen visitors in various other countries at their nude beaches and parks.
Nudism in France after World War II
The French, much like the Germans in an effort to rid themselves of the horror of war, were only to happy to reopen their nude beaches and parks. Unlike Germany, France was not divided after the war so their clubs and organizations began to grow in numbers. In 1944, Albert and Christine Lecocq, two people who were active members of the many nudist clubs, had a major disagreement with them about the basic tenants of some of the societies rules and broke and formed their own travel club. They entitled it Club du Soleil, which translates into Club of the Sun. This club became the most popular naturist club in Europe. During 1944-1946 it opened over 84 clubs in 84 different European cities. From 1944-1975, they were instrumental in promoting the naturist movement throughout France and Europe. Their work included founding a magazine devoted to naturism, forming the FFN, or Federation of French Naturists, which eventually evolved into the INF, or the International Naturist Federation. They were also responsible for the opening of the world’s largest naturist holiday center and for getting the FFN and INF recognized as an official youth and tourist movement. As of the twenty-first century, France has over 200 members clubs , 100 holiday centers, official and unofficial naturist beaches, and many private homes where naturists participate in home nudism along with sunbathing and nude swimming. Naturism and nudism continue to be one of the most popular movements in France today.
Great Britain / England and Nudism in the 1900′s
While Germany and France were spending the majority of the 1900′s educating themselves and others on the benefits of nudism and naturism, Great Britain was a bit slower to embrace the movement. Citizens were coming out of Queen Victoria’s reign and had to adjust their feelings and attitudes towards their bodies. It was a great adjustment to consider that which they had been told was a sin was actually a healthy, normal way of life. In 1924, an aristocrat under the assumed name of Moonella started a group called the Moonella Group. Members of the aristocracy were carefully vetted for membership. Each club member was given a club name to preserve his anonymity. The club closed in 1926 because the land next to the meeting house had been sold. By 1943, Great Britain had become more comfortable with nudism and naturism and had quite a few clubs and organizations. All of these sun clubs joined together to form the British Sunbather Association. However, in 1954, many of these clubs fought with each other over what their tenants should be. A large number splintered off and formed their own society. By 1964, the feuding had come to an end and nudists and naturists had come to an agreement. The factions rejoined and formed the BN or British Naturism. By 1961, all members of the organization had decided that the term nudist was inappropriate and that the term naturist should be used in it’s stead. From 1978-1980, several naturist beaches opened in Great Britain. Today, the people of Great Britain view naturism as a healthy lifestyle.
Nudism and America
By 1929 a large number of immigrants had moved to America. Many of these were German immigrants who brought with them their ideas of the naturist style of life. They were the first to make Americans see that nudism could exist without being shameful or a sin. Kurt Barthel became known as the founder of American nudism. He was a German immigrant who moved to New York. Barthel, who had become friendly with other German immigrants who practiced social nudism allowed himself to be designated as a contact person for Americans who were interested in the nudist approach to life. Another immigrant, Ilsley Boone, a Dutch Reformed Minister from New Jersey, founded a Christian nudist movement around the same time period. In 1929, on Labor Day, Barthel led a group of people to a picnic in the Hudson Mountains. What made the outing unique in America was the fact that each member of the party picnicked in the nude, thus creating the first organized nudist recreation. He organized his attendees into a dues-paying club and named them the American League for Physical Culture (ALPC). In 1930, he moved the group to Spring Valley, New York and opened the first official naturist club. By 1931, the club had over 200 members and moved again, this time to Dover, New Jersey. Once he moved to New Jersey, Barthel became friendly with Ilsley and asked him to take his place as president of ALPC. Ilsley agreed and changed the name of the organization to the American Sunbathing Association. The club continued to grow and struggled through adversity. The club still exists today under the name it finally agreed upon in 1995 which is the American Association for Nude Recreation, or the AANR. Ilsley Boone’s precept was based upon the idea that a nudist is one who goes without clothing unless required by comfort or social norms to wear them; that for many forms of outdoor work and recreation it is better to perform them in the nude than dressed. He advocated a need for a society that nudism enabled to be more healthy than a textile way of life. He never stated that the entire world should be nude.
The year 1933 saw several other nudist clubs and resorts open around America, some of which are still in operation today, including, The Rock Lodge Club in Stockholm, New Jersey, Squaw Mountain Ranch in Estacada, Oregon, and Kaniksu Ranch near Spokane, Washington.
However, in the late 1930′s and 1940′s, nudism began to once again be reviled by Americans as sinful. America seemed unable to shed her Puritan background and hangups with the naked body. The worst blow of all was in 1941 when the US Postal Service began enforcing a law from 1873 called the Comstock Law which stated that obscene material was banned from traveling through the US Mail Service. Publishers of nudist and naturist magazines stopped sending their magazines to subscribers out of fear they would be fined. They attempted to argue that the material they published was different from pornography. In the late 1940′s and early 1950′s Ilsley Boone argued before the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. that nudism was not pornographic nor was it obscene. He argued that nudism and naturism were not the least sexual in nature and that instead it was a lifestyle that was natural and healthy. He pointed out to the justices that nudists were pacifists who abstained from drinking and drugs and alcohol. He pointed out that the majority of the practicing nudists were vegetarians and that all prescribed to a quiet lifestyle. In 1958, the Supreme Court agreed with Boone and ruled that nudist photos and materials were free to travel throughout the USPS. Police raids that had been going on through the late 40′s and 50′s finally began to slow down and then to stop. The last official raid on a nudist camp took place in 1956. This closing took place in Michigan and in 1957 the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that naturists had the right to practice nudism in private resorts and parks. Thusly, the 1950′s became known as the Golden Age of Nudism.
The 1960′s in America: Naturism and the Flower Children
In the 1960′s, nude beaches, especially in hard to reach secluded spots, began to grow in popularity. California led the way with the establishment of one of the first nude beaches in San Diego. The culture of America itself began a wide swing in the 1960′s with people growing more accepting of differences in cultures. Socially, culturally, and politically, Americans began to question the intensely strict Puritan values with which they had been indoctrinated. Ilsley Boone’s death in 1960 also paved the way for naturists and nudists to become more secular. Boone, until his death, had practiced more of a Christian nudist movement. With the advent of the hippies and flower children tuning in, turning on, and dropping out, nudism became more the norm. Unfortunately, it was two-edged sword. Naturists had been trying for centuries and decades to get the world to see that naturism and nudism was not sexual nor was it a deviant behavior. The hippies and flower children, while embracing the culture with open arms were also at the same time making a mockery of what naturism and nudism stood for. By bringing drugs and sex into the equation, naturists and nudists were once again viewed by the mainstream population as sexual deviants. Woodstock did nothing to help the movement at all, proclaiming themselves the free love generation, naturism almost lost any chance it had at legitimacy. The nudist movement would actually find it’s saving grace in the 1970′s and the sexual revolution, again, though sex had nothing to do with practicing naturism and nudism.
Nudism in America, the 1970′s
Surprisingly, it was the sexual revolution of the 1970′s that brought nudity and nudism to the forefront of America and made it more acceptable. As more people built in-ground swimming pools and hot tubs in their backyards, the idea of being discreetly nude became more socially acceptable. There was also a “granola” movement of the time to throw off the drugs and free sex of the 60′s and embrace a more natural lifestyle. Even Americans who would never dream of being a nudist began to wear organic clothing and it became more socially acceptable for women to go without brassieres. There was also a back to nature culture movement growing and a desire for peace after the fiasco in Vietnam. The naturist movement with its ideology of harmonious and clean living became an idea that people who would not have dreamed of accepting in the fifties became more at ease with in the 1970′s. Another by-product of the 1970′s and the sexual revolution was the fact that nudity itself became more normal to the mainstream media. In 1972, Playboy published it’s first photo of a nude woman without parts of her body being airbrushed out. That, along with movies such as Midnight Cowboy made nudity appear more natural to the average American. The generation that was coming of age during this time period saw nothing embarrassing or lewd about nudity.
California and the Free Beach Movement
Because nudity was becoming more acceptable by the younger generation of Americans, they began the actual movement back towards naturists. Whereas nudity that was practiced in America until that time period had either been in the enclosed enclaves of private resorts or camps, a group of young Americans in California began going to beaches in the nude. They would set up their beach chairs and other activities in full view of clothed persons. If there were any complaints, they would never argue, but instead, would pick up their belongings and move further down the beach until they came to a more secluded area where there were either fewer people, or people who would not complain. After a few years of this, the particular areas of the beaches where they had set up became generally known as nude beaches.
American nudists vs. American naturists
At this point in history came another round of discord within the movement. The American nudists who had fought so long and hard with Ilsley Boone were dismayed by the overt sensationalism afforded the nudists who were fighting for their civil rights to appear nude on beaches. They refused to acknowledge the “free beachers” and refused to offer their support at their trials and rallies. The naturists insisted that it was because they were afraid that people would no longer join their camps and resorts and pay the fees for usage. The ASA camps insisted it was because they had fought long and hard to have their camps considered respectable. They argued that their stance on nudism was that while it was normal and healthy, it was not a view that they felt should be forced and pushed on others. The ASA argued that by going to trial and fighting for the right to be nude in the open on federal land such as beaches and parks, they were giving the nudist movement a bad name. Ironically, as many of the free beachers aged, they began to tire of the fight and actually joined the ASA and their parks and colonies.
The Birth of Nude Recreation
The 1970′s also saw the birth of nude recreation. While nudists and naturists had been vacationing together at their private parks, tourism boards and travel agencies began courting their business. Windjammer opened their Barefoot Cruises which they marketed towards the nudist population as did Club Med, with a Club Orient that they opened for naturists in the Caribbean. The state of Texas saw the opening of a travel agency exclusively for nudists named “Bare Necessities.” This agency booked tours and cruises that catered to their nudist clientele.
The 1980′s: Nudism vs. Pornography
In the 1980′s the extreme right began arguing against nudism once again. By 1984, when the Meese Report on Pornography was published, opponents to nudism took the opportunity to attempt to have nudity labeled as an adult activity. This meant that while they could not get it banned, they could attempt to have it treated like a strip club and have it regulated. By regulating naturism, they could also force couples with children to be unable to practice nudism and naturism as a family and with their children. Not only that, nudism would now be subject to zoning laws and regulations.
Naturists Fight Back
In 1985, a man named Lee Baxandall, one of the original members of the Free Beach Society, took his local grassroots firm of beach volunteers and print publications and formed The Naturist Society. TNS was a wide campaign to get nudism back to the roots of naturism from which it had sprung. By using the name naturist again, Baxandall hoped that America would associate it with the branches from Europe that promoted family-friendly activities and thoughts. Baxandall hoped to get away from the negative meanings that the word nudist now brought to mind.
Each year in an effort to promote the positives of naturism, TNS holds gatherings which are for naturists and the public alike. Clothing is optional, being nude is not required. The goal of the Gatherings are to promote among middle America the activities that TNS participates in, both social and recreational. Public opinion polls are also held to see where the middle American stance is on public nudism on set aside lands. The good news for the naturist movement is that the general public has become much more tolerant. TNS has been very careful to promote the fact that naturism is a family-friendly, non-sexual, style of living.
Baxandall himself commissioned a series of videos designed to promote naturism as a family friendly activity. He also founded along with TNS, the Naturist Action Committee, a watch dog group designed to be an early warning system against groups who wanted to legislate the naturist movement out of existence. He was the first naturist to employ a lobbyist whose job was to get The Naturist Society’s agenda promoted in Washington to state senators and representatives. Baxandall married his longtime girlfriend in 1992. In 1995 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. He continued to fight for the rights of naturists until 2002, when the disease forced him to retire from public life. He lived the rest of his life as a naturist full of joy until he succumbed to Parkinson’s in 2008 and died.
Naturists in the 21st Century
Things are looking brighter for the naturist movement as of today. Mainstream America has become more comfortable with nudity, thanks to television and the media. Senior citizen groups are actually selling calendars of their members in the nude for fund raising efforts. With the vast array of travel opportunities and retreats scheduled by tourism and travel agencies, naturists are finding it easier than ever to recreate while living the life they could only dream of a few decades prior. Thanks to the Internet, naturist and nudist groups are finding it easier to spread their message that their philosophy is based on a wholesome, holistic lifestyle rather than one of sex and depravity. Exercises such as yoga and pilates also have classes that are held in the buff and paired along with meditation. The old nudist colonies have been replaced with upscale hotels, inns and bed and breakfasts which cater exclusively to their naturist clients. Forbes magazine reported that the naturist recreation movement brings in over $800,000 per year.
Over 50 years ago, bans against human contact were put into place in nudist camps due to the fear that to see naked people touching would be considered pornographic. The majority of these bans have been lifted and couples are free to hold hands as they stroll along beaches. Americans have come to realize that the unrestrained sexuality and public couplings never came to pass. It does appear that Americans are becoming more comfortable with the idea of social nudity. The fear that existed among Americans of sin and depravity have actually been replaced with worries over body image. America still has a long way to go before enjoying the freedom that European naturists experience, but the gap between the two is lessening every day.
CORRECTION, posted with permission from our friend Howard :
I really liked your history of nudism but would like to knock one idea on the head. The story of how the Victorians modestly covered the legs of their pianos is a myth. Thomas Pyles’ book Words and Ways of American English contains what is claimed to be the most likely explanation, that an English traveller by the name of Captain Frederick Marryat invented the story as a joke. He wrote it in his book, Diary in America.
Keep up the good work!
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