Time Line on Skinny-dipping and Public Bathing in Christian History.
Keep in mind that some of the historical information we give you is still being debated among historians and are not all considered as fact. We encourage you to do your own research and come up with your own conclusions.
10 b.c. (?)
According to the Gospel of Luke the beginning of Christianity was started with a man named Zechariah. Zechariah was a priest in the Temple of Jerusalem built by Herod the Great. As a priest, Zachariah had to go through rituals of cleansing so he can enter the temple. One of these rituals was bathing his body with Living Water in a room for priest only. This bathing ritual was called “Mikveh” and so was the bathing pool in which the priest would bathe in. The pool was large enough for more then two priest, and it was likely that Zachariah did it naked with other fellow priest. After bathing was done, the priest would put on their ritual robes.
10 b.c. – 40 a.d. (?)
We don’t know for a fact, but most historians believe that around this time was when Jesus Christ (The Son of the Living God) was alive in His earthly body. It is believed that John the Baptist (Jesus’ Cousin) was a follower of the Jewish Community called “Essenes”. According to historians Josephus and Philo, one of the Essenes’ rituals was bathing for purification. (What we now call Baptism) This was believed by some historians to be done in the nude. As of which, it is also believed that Jesus may have been baptized naked with John the Baptist (who also might have been naked) in the Jordan River. Jews themselves believed is keeping clean. (Moses’ Teachings commands it) If you were wealthy, you would have had your own bathhouse or tub, but if you were brought up in a poorer community (like Jesus Christ) you would bathe in rivers or water holes with moving water that were used by and with other people. In the cities, Jews did use Roman style bath houses. Even though the Jews hatted the Romans, one of the few Roman traditions they kept, was using bath houses. However, the Jews would not bathe with uncircumcised Gentiles. They would have their own bath houses and would separate the genders. The bathes may have had moving water instead of still, because of Moses’ teachings. Some of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, and according to archeological finds. fishermen during the Roman Empire would perform their occupation in the nude. It is believed that the Jewish fishermen would do the same and were some of the few Jewish men who swam in the ocean. They may also have been good at diving. Swimming was part of their job and was necessary.
40 – 313 a.d.
This was around the time of the early Christian Faith in the Roman Empire. It is believed by some historians that a majority of Christian groups did baptisms in the nude around the 4th century. Baptisms were done wherever there was water. Christian baptisms might have been done in the Roman Bathhouses to show publicly their new faith, but this is not proven. Some Roman communities did believe men and women should bath separately, and many small town bathhouses had rules on what hours women and men can bathe. Cities may have had a bath house for each gender or they allowed mix. When persecution of Christians began during the Roman Empire, baptisms were no longer done in public view as a witness of faith to friends and neighbors. Instead it may have been done in wealthy Christian’s bathhouses or tubs that were private (Christians shared everything with each other in the Early Church) or other secret places during the night. Christians still bathed in public bathhouses and swam naked in the seas, lakes and oceans. During persecution, many Christians would paint the stories of Jesus’ Life on catacomb walls. One painting would be of Jesus’ Baptism. They would portray Him being baptized naked. This also brought up the belief that the early Christians did the same. It is still debated by historians if around this time baptisms were divided by genders. During the 5th and 6th century Fathers of the
Roman Church, such as St. Clement and St. Jerome, forbid members of their congregation to bathe in public Roman Bath Houses because the facilities allowed both genders to bathe together. Also, sexual behaviors of all kinds were done in bathhouses at this time. How-ever bathing was strongly encouraged during this time by the Church, but only if done alone or with the same gender and sexual activities weren’t done.
306 -337 a.d.
Because of the Roman Emperor Constantine 1st the Great, Christianity changed a LOT. One of the changes Constantine helped make was the practice of baptism.
Before Emperor Constantine accepted Christianity, he built a lot of roman baths to make the people of Rome happy. Because of Constantine, Christianity wasn’t going through much hardship in the Roman Empire. (Though some barbarian tribes and countries outside and inside the empire were killing missionaries) It was again possible to baptize in rivers and other bodies of water during the day. It is recorded that some men close to Constantine were baptized in a bathhouse. After Constantine accepted Christianity (312 a.d.), he began building churches (Before then, most Christians gathered in homes or small buildings) and baptisteries separate from the church building itself. Some smaller churches had the baptistery as a separate room. Some of these new churches did baptize in the nude. And some churches would only baptize on Easter Sunday.
The new baptisteries were designed after a part of the Roman Bath House called the frigidarium. The frigidarium was where the people would take there cold baths. Missionaries would still baptize people in rivers and other bodies of water, but once a church building was built with a baptistery, outside baptisms ended. Some baptisteries were divided with a wall for men and women. Some aloud whole families to be baptized in the same room. Christian Romans still bathed in bathhouses and swam in large bodies of water. They still believed in cleansing of the body, and Christianity in their beliefs helped give reason to do so.
400 – 700′s a.d.
This was the time in European history when the Roman Empire fell and Barbarian Kingdoms (and Empires) began to form. This time period to some historians is called the Dark Ages. As the Roman Empire slowly decade,Christianity slowly spreads throughout Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Asia. Most barbarian tribes and clans began to accept the faith of Christianity. Each church movement had their own views and doctrine and new Christians kept some of their old pagan traditions and rituals by giving them new Christian meanings. The Roman Catholic Church has started, but wasn’t recognized by all Christian Churches and sometimes wars broke out over doctrinal views. Ideas of bathing and swimming were also different between barbarian Christians. Many northern European clans (Mostly Men) of the Celtic Church Movement, would bathe in Ice cold lakes to help their bodies get use to harsh winters. Mothers would bathe their sons in cold water as soon as they were born. Scottish clans (Picts & Celts) were recorded bathing in cold lakes even in the late 18th century. Around or after 590 a.d., Pope Gregory the Great of the Roman Catholic Church, commended Sunday bathing as long as it wasn’t time wasted luxury.
800 – 1100′s a.d.
The Romans were not the only people in history who was noted for being clean and healthy. Surprising, the Norsemen (Vikings) were neat freaks. During the viking raids, these men would take time to bathe when possible and as often as they can. Vikings of both upper and lower classes would own a separate building from there house. This building was a bath-house and every Saturday was bathing day. Vikings also had sweat lodges and many Europeans and Asians during this time adopted this idea. Part of bathing in a sweet lodge was to go outside after a nice sweat and bathe in the cold water near by. This was all done naked. The vikings also liked to perform sporting events. One was swimming and water wrestling. Swimming races were mostly done with tunics and chain-mail on, but water wrestling was done in the nude. This sport was so violent that many times the loser would drown. By the late 900′s, viking clans began to except Christianity. How-ever, some Viking Kings (there were kings as well as chiefs in the viking world) forced their subjects to believe in the Christian Faith. Because of this lost of choice, pagan beliefs and rituals stubbornly stayed with rebellious subjects. At this time, Christianity excepted sweat bathing in the new Holy Roman Empire till around the age of chivalry. Even during the age of chivalry, Christians in the northern kingdoms kept sweat lodges. Today Northern Europe, Russia, Canada, and the State of Alaska still use sweat lodges and practice bathing in cold water naked.
1100 – 1200′s a.d.
In most of Europe,this time period was called the Middle Ages, or the Age of Chivalry. Knights would swim as part of their training for war. However, they didn’t swim naked. Instead, knights would swim with their armor on. Rather they did swim in the nude while not training is hard to say. There is artwork and writings that prove swimming in the nude was popular among the peasants and some of the higher classes. The 11th-13th century was also the time of the Christian Crusades. Some historians believe, that when the crusades attacked the Muslims in the Middle East, one of the luxuries they brought back to Europe was bathhouses and the art of bathing. Even though swimming and bathing was excepted, people in the middle ages may have been afraid to get their hair wet. Some Europeans believed that bathing might cause plagues and diseases. This might have been true since bathhouses didn’t change their water much and people would bathe and urinate in the same tub. Some would wear a cap to keep their hair from getting wet even though this alone didn’t stop diseases.
1300 – 1600′s a.d.
In most of Europe this time period was known as the Renaissance. Bathhouses and public swimming were almost as popular as during the Roman Empire, and mix bathing among genders was allowed, even though the Christian Church was agents it. There were also bathhouses that separated the genders. In some European towns and kingdoms, bathing (like during the Roman Empire) was not intended for hygienic purposes, but for socializing, politics and luxury. However, some villages and kingdoms made it a law to bathe because of hygienic purposes, and yet again, some didn’t encourage bathing all together. Some parts of Europe banded bathing, because bathhouses were so dirty and unhealthy, and it was there were plagues and diseases did spread. The Church also tried to band bathhouses and coed bathing because sexual activities couldn’t be kept under control. Swimming was a past time luxury or a way to get out of the heat. Some monks wouldn’t bathe because of a vow to stay away from luxury of any kind. Even though people did bathe in lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams, they really didn’t know how to swim. Drowning was a bigger danger then it is today. In 1538 a man named Nicolas Wynman wrote a book called “Colymbetes”. The book talked about different styles of swimming and inventions to help prevent drowning. Other books were soon written about swimming. Unfortunately, most books were written in Latin, and so only the upper-class people could read them. Most lower class people couldn’t even read. During the early 16th century Protestantism was born. People could finally read the bible themselves in their own language, and make their own decisions of what God’s Word means. Again, Christians were literally at war and ideas of the Christian Faith went wild. Ideas of bathing, swimming and how it must be done were controversial as well. It all depended on what doctrine you follow and what country you were in. It’s as if history keeps repeating itself. Some churches believed that after baptism, one has to stay away from pleasures in life, such as bathing and swimming. Some Puritans had such beliefs and would only bathe twice a year. Because bathing was not popular and considered unhealthy by the fifteen hundreds, lice and sickness were far more common and people died at a very early age. People began to create new ideas to stay way from bathing, such as shaving bald and wearing wigs. Using heavy perfumes and makeup to hide unattractive smells and blemishes didn’t always helped. Some European people during the 16th and 17th century did swim, and bathhouses were still around for both coed and not.
Ever since Christopher Columbus discovered the New World (America), more explorations were done and the European Empires grew. What amazed these European explorers were not only the strange worlds they found, but also the people with-in them. Such explores as Capt James Cook, witness swimming among the North and South American Natives. Most European sailors didn’t know how to swim and the very few who did, wouldn’t swim in the ocean in fear of Sea Monsters and other dangerous creatures. The only Europeans who did swim in the oceans and seas, were sponge divers, pearl divers and other divers who search for treasure among shipwrecks. A few other Europeans did bathe in the ocean for healthy reasons, but this did not become popular till the late 17oo’s.
By the mid-late 17oo’s, swimming became a popular, healthy, and fun activity among the European Colonies in Northern America and the tropical islands. Some historians believe that these colonist adopted the Native’s view of bathing. There were mineral springs that people would travel long distances for healing of sickness and pains. Swimming was also a way to win wars by sinking wooden ships or taking short routes across rivers and other large bodies of water. However, swimming was more popular among the men then the women, because it was not proper for women to show curtain skin, and women didn’t want to get a tan, so they could attract their man. (Pale women were considered beautiful back then) Those who did swim, wore their long underclothes or had to find a private place to bathe naked with other woman. It was fine for men to swim naked, but Christian modesty prevented coed bathing.
The British Emperor, King George III, made ocean bathing popular. King George believed it was healthy to bathe in the cold ocean. He would swim naked with his male servants and friends. He also swam in his under shirt with women who wore one of the first swim suits in Christian History. Soon it became a trend in all of Europe and among their empires.
Other famous men who swam naked during this time ,lived in the British Empire. These colonials, who formed a new nation called, ” The United States of America”, also educated young men the importance of swimming. One of the most famous Founding Fathers who skinny-dipped, was Benjamen Franklin.
When Dr. Benjamen Franklin was a boy, he would strip off his clothing, and ask another boy to take his clothes to the other side of a pond. Then Ben would fly a kite and have the kite sail him across the pond as he floated on his back. When Benjamen Franklin was an ambassador in France, he would swim daily. Benjamen Franklin also wrote articles and a book on the art of swimming. Among these writings there would be illustrations of how to perform different styles of swimming. These illustrations would picture a naked man or boy showing a swimming movement.
The eighteenth century was the best and worst of times for men to go skinny-dipping. It was more than expected, and almost all famous and not so famous men (either Political, Religious, or Military) did. In the United States it was encouraged, how-ever modesty was stronger in the U.S. then in Europe. The U.S. was a nation with moral Christian principles. They believed in modesty between genders. Nude beaches were for men only, while women had to swim separate while wearing bathing suites that helped them drown more than swim. Also along the Eastern cost of the U.S. and throughout Europe the bathing machine was invented. This bathing machine was nothing more than a wagon built as a dressing room for women. It stood in the water, so women can quickly dive in. Now don’t get me wrong, there were women who skinny-dipped. Coed nude beaches were allowed in some parts of Europe. In the country women swam naked alone or with other female friends. In the U.S. and Canada, women did bathe nude outdoors in the country, but this wasn’t common because of fear that they might be captured by natives or wild animals might come out and kill. In the U.S. and Canada, bathing together with friends out in the wilderness or on the range was more than sociable, it was necessary for safety reasons. Northern Americans looked upon swimming outdoors as being healthy.
Almost all U.S. Presidents skinny-dipped. The most famous Skinny-dipper in U.S. History was John Quincy Adams. Johns Adams is also claimed by historians as the most religious, conservative Presidents in United States history. John Adams was the sixth President of the United States from 1825 – 1829. He would swim in the Potomac River in Washington D.C. every morning before work. Every-one knew this, including a female reporter, Anne Royall.
Anne Royall, considered by many the first female journalist in the U.S., felt ignored by Adams. When she heard about his habit to go skinny dipping, she tracked the President down, hid herself out of view, and waited patiently for the
President to enter the water. Once Adams was submerged, she quickly positioned herself on his clothes.
When Adams returned, he looked puzzled at the very determined young lady. She announced her intention to have an interview with the President.
Adams suggested that if she let him get dressed first, he’d be happy to oblige. But Anne, sensing the opportunity, coolly replied she had no intention to move until the President answered all her questions to a satisfactory level. She also added that if the President dared getting out of the water she would scream out loud for all to hear. Adams, aware that there were some fishermen round the next bend, was nervous about the embarrassment this could cause. Anne Royall got the interview of her life, while the President stayed decently submerged in the water throughout.
1832- early 1900s was known throughout the British Empire as the Victorian era. It was common throughout the British Empire for men to bathe nude on public beaches. By the 1860s public nude swimming was banned and men had to wear modest swim suits. Many men protested this idea.
Not just because nudity was more masculine back then, but also many swim suits were made of itchy wool or flannel. Gentlemen’s clubs were beginning to purchase their own beaches so their members could swim in the nude. Some beaches would have a tall fence to divide genders so nude swimming would still be allowed for the men. Women in the British Empire didn’t bathe in the nude, but through out other countries in Europe, female nudity was accepted provided the beach was for women only and men were not allowed. Some say the word, “peeping tom”, was invented around this time, because men would peep through holes in fences that surrounded the female section of the beaches.
In Northern America, public coed nude swimming was not allowed, but it wasn’t banned for divided genders. In fact it was encouraged. Many towns had their own swimming-holes for men. These swimming-holes were either on a dock at the harbor, a bridge in town, a pond at a farm, a water hole near a mine, or anywhere there was a body of water deep enough to swim in. There were a few for women as well, but these were more hidden from plain sight and men were not allowed any where near them. (Of course some men would try) Natural springs were becoming more popular for healthy reasons, and being done in the nude was considered common sense. These springs or spas would be located in the mountains and countries away from unhealthy city air.
During the 1860s, the American Civil War broke out, and soldiers from the North and South would march for days in awful heat. Their uniforms were made of wool, and the soldiers would have to carry heavy equipment with them if there wasn’t a wagon that carried their camping supplies. . Whenever an army camped along a river, some would strip, then jump into the river to clean and cool themselves off. Bathing was a rare luxury for American soldiers. Few soldiers would have a bar of lye soap that was made from home. Most of the soldiers would bathe in groups. While bathing, there would be a few men standing guard on the banks of the river to warn if there’s an ambush. Women during the Civil couldn’t fight as a soldier, but this didn’t stop some. Women would dress as men to join the military. One way they might have hidden their true identities but still kept clean, was to wake up and bathe before dawn.
During and after the American Civil War, people were heading out west, to the wild frontier. When the California Gold Rush began, (1848–1855) Mining Towns were built with saloons, hotels, banks, sheriffs office and a bath house. Chinese immigrants during this time would build bathhouses and also do laundry for a fee. It wasn’t just the Wild American West that these Chinese Baths were most popular. There were also gold rushes in Australia , plus other frontier towns were being built throughout the British Empire. If there was gold to be dug up, be sure there was a Chinese bathhouse near by to clean you up. Because, at first, mining towns were mostly full of only men, modesty wasn’t necessary. Bath houses were sometimes out in the open air or just inside tents and wagons, (as were many other businesses) but some mining towns became settlements and women came to stay. Bath houses and other businesses began using buildings instead of tents. Bath houses became mostly used by men only, and was for luxury as well as cleanliness. Women and children would bathe in a wooden tub at home.
During the late 1800′s new ideas and movements were forming in Christian circles that would help mankind. A young man from the British country named George Williams, moved to England as a sales assistant in a draper’s shop. He noticed that city boys and young men would sleep in filthy streets and buildings and were forced to live immoral, illegal lives. A God-given idea came to him. This idea soon changed communities and churches from the British Empire, through Europe and the United States. George Williams called it, “Young Men’s Christian Association”, or what we know it as the Y.M.C.A.. On June 8 1844, the first Y.M.C.A. Bible Studies and Prayer Meetings took to the streets.
In 1866, an influential New York Y.M.C.A. adopted a fourfold purpose: “The improvement of the spiritual, mental, social and physical condition of young men.” But it wasn’t until the 1880s, when Y.M.C.A.s began putting up buildings in large numbers.
Gyms and swimming pools came in at that time, too, along with big auditoriums and bowling alleys. Hotel-like rooms with bathrooms down the hall, called dormitories or residences, were designed into every new YMCA building, and would continue to be until the late 1950s. Income from rented rooms was a great source of funds for YMCA activities of all kinds. Residences would make a major financial contribution to the movement for the next century. Y.M.C.A.s took up boys work and organized summer camps. They set up exercise drills in classes—forerunners of today’s aerobics—using wooden dumbbells, heavy medicine balls and so-called Indian clubs, which resembled graceful, long-necked bowling pins. Y.M.C.A.s organized college students for social action, literally invented the games of basketball and volleyball and served the special needs of railroad men who had no place to stay when the train reached the end of the line. By the 1890s, the fourfold purpose was transformed into the triangle of spirit, mind and body.
Men and boys would learn how to swim in the pools that were built, and guess what, it was all done naked. Nude swimming in the Y.M.C.A.’s pools and boy’s camps went on till the 1970s. Not all Y.M.C.A’s allowed nude swimming, but most of them did, especially in the United States and Canada. The Y.M.C.A. helped encourage larger schools around the world to have their own indoor pools for students. Even the schools allowed nudity, and the genders were kept separate.
Please take a look at these videos and websites of historic information on skinny-dipping in the 20th century.
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