150-166. Historical support for Naturism.
150. Social nudity is part of a long historical tradition.211 Recent Western civilization stands almost alone,
in the entire known history of humanity, in its repressive code against nudity.
151. Nudity was commonplace in the ancient Greek civilization, especially for men.212
By the Classical Period of ancient Greece, nude exercise and athletic competition had become part of the
way of life for Greek men, and a practice which separated "modern" Greeks both from other, "barbarian" cultures
and from their own past. The original Olympic games were conducted in the nude. Plato described nudity in exercise
as a practical, useful, and rational innovation; Thucydides promoted it as simpler, freer, and more democratic, a
cultural distinction between the Greek soldier who must be in shape, lean and muscular, not portly and prosperous,
and the "barbarians" who announced their status and wealth by wearing expensive garments that gave a false
impression of elegance and authority.213
152. Old Testament ceremonial washings, including baptism, were performed in the nude.214 Christ, too,
was probably baptized naked--as depicted in numerous early works of art.215
153. Roman citizens, including early Christians, bathed communally in the nude at the public baths
throughout most of the second through the fourth centuries. Nudity was also common during this period in other
parts of ancient Roman society.
154. The writings of early Christians such as Irenaeus and Tertullian make it clear that they had no ethical
reservations about communal nudity.216
Christian historian Roy Bowen Ward notes that "Christian Morality did not originally preclude nudity. . . .
There is a tendency to read history backward and assume that early Christians thought the same way mainstream
Christians do today. We attribute the present to the past." 217
155. For the first several centuries of Christianity, it was the custom to baptize men, women, and children
together nude. This ritual played a very significant role in the early church. The accounts are numerous and
Margaret Miles notes that "naked baptism was observed as one of the two essential elements in Christian
initiation, along with the invocation of the Trinity. . . . In the fourth century instructions for baptism throughout the
Roman Empire stipulated naked baptism without any suggestion of innovation or change from earlier practices." 219
A typical historical account comes from Cyril of Jerusalem, bishop of Jerusalem from A.D. 387 to 417:
"Immediately, then, upon entering, you remove your tunics. . . . You are now stripped and naked, in this also
imitating Christ despoiled of His garments on His Cross, He Who by His nakedness despoiled the principalities and
powers, and fearlessly triumphed over them on the Cross." After baptism, and clothed in white albs, St. Cyril would
say: "How wonderful! You were naked before the eyes of all and were not ashamed! Truly you bore the image of
the first-formed Adam, who was naked in the garden and was not ashamed." 220 J.C. Cunningham notes that "there
is nothing in the present rubrics of the Roman rite against doing this today. In fact, in the Eastern rites the rubrics
even state the option of nude adult baptism." 221
156. Nudity was common and accepted in pre-medieval (circa 6th century) society, especially in places like
Great Britain, which had been "barbarian" lands only a few hundred years before.222
E.T. Renbourn notes that nudity was widespread throughout Ancient Britain and northern Europe, in spite
of the climate. Even as late as the 17th century, travellers such as Coryat and Fynes Moryson found the Irish people
living nude or semi -nude indoors. He writes that Moryson, in his Itinery (circa early 17th century), found Irish
gentlewomen "prepared to receive visitors and even strangers indoors when completely unencumbered by
157. Nudity was fairly common in medieval and renaissance society, especially in the public baths and
within the family setting.224
Havelock Ellis records that "in daily life . . . a considerable degree of nakedness was tolerated during
medieval times. This was notably so in the public baths, frequented by men and women together." 225 Lawrence
Wright observes that nudity was common in the home, too: "The communal tub had . . . one good reason; the good
reason was the physical difficulty of providing hot water. No modern householder who . . . has bailed out and
carried away some 30 gallons of water, weighing 300 lb., will underrate the labour involved. The whole family and
their guests would bathe together while the water was hot. . . . Ideas of propriety were different from ours, the whole
household and the guests shared the one and only sleeping apartment, and wore no night-clothes until the sixteenth
century. It was not necessarily rude to be nude."226
The high-ranking nobles of Edward IV's court were permitted by law to display their naked genitals below
a short tunic, and contemporary reports indicate that they did so. Chaucer commented on the use of this fashion in
The Parson's Tale, written about 1400. Many men's garments, he wrote, were so short they "covere nat the shameful
membres of man." 227 Between the 14th and mid -17th centuries, and especially during the reign of Louis XIV,
women would often leave their bodices loose and open or even entirely undone, exposing the nipple or even the
whole of the breasts, a practice confirmed by numerous historical accounts.228 The Venetian ambassador, writing in
1617, described Queen Anne of Denmark as wearing a dress which displayed her bosom "bare down to the pit of the
stomach." Aileen Ribeiro writes that in the early 15th century, "women's gowns became increasingly tight-fitting
over the bust, some gowns with front openings even revealing the nipples. . . . In 1445 Guillaume Jouvenal des
Ursins became Chancellor of France and his brother, an ecclesiastic, wrote to him urging him to tell the king that he
should not allow the ladies of his household to wear gowns with front openings that revealed their breasts and
158. Even in the Victorian era, before the invention of bathing suits, swimming nude in the ocean was
commonplace; and music halls often featured nude models as living "sculpture." 230
159. Few people realize that swimsuits, as we know them today, are a relatively recent concept. The idea of
wearing special clothing to swim in is barely a century old.
160. Skinnydipping, in the local river or farm pond, is well-documented as an important historical part of
our national heritage.
Skinnydipping and outdoor nudity appear in the writings of Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, William Allen
White, Lincoln Steffens, William Styron, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Herman Melville, James Michener, and Henry
Miller, among many others, and in the depictions of Norman Rockwell, Rockwell Kent, Andrew Wyeth, Thomas
Eakins, John Sloane, and Grant Wood.
161. Many YMCA, college, and high school male-only pools or swimming classes were historically
"swimsuit-optional" or nude-only until federally-mandated "equal access" athletic programs (for the sake of women)
were instituted in the mid 1970s.231
162. Today, there are still public locations where nudity is, by local tradition or custom, the accepted
Nudity is the norm, for instance, in natural primitive hot springs and on nude beaches; and, almost
universally, for models in art classes.
163. The few officially sanctioned nude beaches in the U.S. (for example, Rooster Rock State Park,
Oregon) and Canada (Wreck Beach, British Columbia)--and most of the unofficial beaches as well--have existed for
decades without significant problems.232
164. Many highly respected people, historical and contemporary, have espoused and/or participated in
Naturism to some degree.
Benjamin Franklin took daily naked "air baths." 233 So did Henry David Thoreau, who was also a frequent
skinnydipper.234 Alexander Graham Bell was a skinnydipper and nude sunbather.235 George Bernard Shaw, Walt
Whitman, Eugene O'Neill, and painter Thomas Eakins argued in favor of social nudity.236
President John Quincy Adams was a regular skinnydipper. According to reports, "each morning he got up
before dawn, walked across the White House lawn to the Potomac River, took off his clothes and swam in the nude.
Then he returned to the White House to have breakfast, read the Bible and run the country." 237 President Theodore
Roosevelt frequently swam nude in Rock Creek Park in Washington, once skinny-dipping with the French diplomat,
Jules Jusserand.238 President Lyndon Johnson occasionally swam nude with guests in the white house pool,
including evangelist Billy Graham. 239 Senator Edward Kennedy has been photographed skinnydipping at public
beaches in Florida. At the White House of his brother, John F. Kennedy, nudity had been common around the White
House pool.240 Many U.S. congressmen enjoy nude recreation, albeit segregated: U.S. Senate members may use the
Russell Senate Office Building Pool in the nude (the few female Senators make appointments to assure there won't
be males on hand), and Representatives may use a clothing-optional steam room, where President Bush was said by
Newsweek to hang out sans towel with his buddies. Congressmen also sunbathed nude on the Speaker's Porch until
one day in 1973 when Rep. Patricia Schroeder wandered into the gathering inadvertently.241
Billionaire insurance man John D. MacArthur frequently went skinnydipping, and left a beach to the state
of Florida, intending that a portion be designated clothing-optional (a wish that has been spurned); word has it that
MacArthur went skinnydipping with Walt Disney at this beach in the late 1960s.242 World Bank president and
former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, and American Civil Liberties Union founder Roger Baldwin,
both have been regular skinnydippers.243 Charles F. Richter, the co-inventor of the earthquake measuring system,
was a life-long nudist and Naturist.244 Actress Lynn Redgrave and her family practice social nudism.245 Actresses
Bridget Fonda and Brigitte Bardot enjoy social nudity.246 The late actor Gary Merrill advocated nudism.247
Christy Brinkley openly admits to frequenting nude beaches,248 and Christian singer Amy Grant goes topfree on
foreign beaches while on tour overseas.249 Even the late Dr. Seuss published approval of a nudist philosophy, in
one of his first books.250
165. Historically, a great many writers and artists have regarded Naturism, or something close to it, to be
part of the utopian ideal.
R. Martin writes: "Anthropologically, nakedness would seem to be the best and worst of conditions.
Involuntary stripping to nakedness is defeat or poverty, but willed nakedness may be a perfect form." 251 Nudity is
also consistent with the Christian utopian concept of heaven, in which, according to biblical accounts, clothing is not
166. Nudity has often been used, historically, as a symbol of protest or rebellion against oppression.
For example, the early Quakers, in mid-17th century England, often used nudity as an element of protest.
Historian Elbert Russell notes that "A number of men and women were arrested and punished for public indecency
because they appeared in public naked 'as a sign.' George Fox and other leaders defended the practice, when the doer
felt it a religious duty to do so. . . . The suggestion of such a sign came apparently from Isaiah's walking 'naked and
barefoot three years' (Isaiah 20:2,3)." 252 The Doukhobors, a radical Christian sect, used nudity as a social protest in
Canada in the early 1900s.253 Paul Ableman records that "In May, 1979, Emperor Bokassa . . . a minor Central
African tyrant, arrested a large number of children on charges of sedition and massacred some of them. According to
The Guardian (London) of 18 May, 'Hundreds of women demonstrated naked outside the prison until the survivors
were released.'" 254
In the 1920s, as part of a widening rebellion against genteel society, the size of bathing suits began to
diminish. Nude beaches, reaching their height of popularity in the 1970s, are the ultimate result of this process of
social emancipation. The free body movement in general in the 1970s fit this social and historical pattern. Examples
include casual nudity at Woodstock; "nude-in" demonstrations; and a record-setting demonstration by Athens,
Georgia university students on March 7, 1974, when more than 1500 went naked on their college campus. It took
tear gas to make the students dress.255
211. For a thorough review of the perceptions of nudity throughout history, see Ribeiro.
212. There is some debate about when nudity became commonplace among men in ancient Greek society. Myles
McDonnell points out that "Bronze Age archaeology [specifically, Minoan era artwork] and the Homeric poems
make it fairly certain that athletic nudity was not practiced before the late 8th century [B.C.]." However, nudity
seems to have been commonplace among male athletes by the mid 6th century B.C., a fact supported both by vase
artistry and the writings of Thucydides and Plato. McDonnell concludes, "whatever its origin, it seems that nude
exercising was generally practiced by the mid sixth century [B.C.] at Athens and probably earlier in sports and at the
Olympic games." (McDonnell 182, 184, 193) Women were not naked in public in Athens; however, Spartan
women participated nude in some rituals and athletic events, and in certain circumstances had the freedom of partial
nudity in their social dress. See Bonfante, "The Naked Greek," 30-33, and "Nudity as a Costume," 554, 559;
Ribeiro 20; Renbourn 13.
213. Bonfante, "Nudity as a Costume" 546-47, 551-58; Wilkinson 85-96; McDonnell 193; Warren 161.
214. Miles 34.
215. The famous Ravenna mosaic, for instance, clearly depicts Christ being baptized nude. See also Giovanni di
Paoloi's 15th century painting "The Baptism of Christ."
216. Ward, "Why Must Public Nudity" 97, and "Women in Roman Baths" 125-47; Brown 315-16. The historicity of
coed nudity is supported by the writings of numerous Roman historians including Ovid, Nicarchus, Pliny the Elder,
Quintilian, and Marial. See also Ableman 38; Wilkinson 99-101.
217. "Christians Undressed" 11. Roy Bowen Ward notes that by the Fifth Century the anti-body philosophy adopted
by church leaders had become so entrenched that St. Jerome considered it immoral for a Christian virgin to bathe in
the nude--even if alone. The transformation away from a more natural acceptance of nudity came about as the result
of the powerful influence of a few individuals. For details, see Ward, "Women in Roman Baths" 142-46; Brown
314-17; Mackenzie 24; and Renbourn 483-84.
218. An extensive list of sources may be found in Jonathan Smith 220, footnote 12. See also pp. 222-24, 227, 235-
37; Miles, chapter 1, esp. pp. 33-34; Cunningham 49-50; Danielou 38-39; Ward, "Why Must Public Nudity" 97; B.
Easton 46; and Mackey 42.
219. Miles 33.
220. Cyril of Jerusalem, The Mystagogical Lectures, FOC 64, 161, quoted in Miles 33; Danielou 38, 39; and
Cunningham 49-50. John the Deacon, in about 500 A.D., wrote: "They are commanded to go in naked, even down
to their feet, so that [they may show that] they have put off the earthly garments of mortality. The church has
ordained these things for many years with watchful care, even though the old books may not reveal traces of them."
(Jonathan Smith 235; Miles 34) St. Hippolytus, presbyter of Rome circa 215 A.D., said that total nudity was
required. The rule ordered, "let no one go down to the water having any alien object with them," and directs women
to remove even their jewelry and the combs from their hair (Cunningham 49; Ward, "Why Must Public Nudity" 97;
B. Easton 46). Several paintings in the Christian catacombs in the first centuries of the common era depicted naked
baptism (Miles 34; Jonathan Smith 222; Mackey 42). There are many theories as to the reason nudity was an
important part of early Christian baptism. Most interpret nudity as symbolic of spiritual rebirth in the Christian
faith. Margaret Miles explains that it symbolized "death to former commitments and socialization and birth to a new
existence. . . . The stripping of clothing followed by nakedness . . . was a paradigm of the deconstruction of secular
socialization." (Miles 36) Alternatively, but in a similar vein, Jonathan Smith writes: "Being naked and without
shame [in baptism] is . . . a typological return to the state of Adam and Eve before the Fall." (Jonathan Smith 237)
221. Cunningham 49.
222. See Taylor, esp. 26.
223. Renbourn 15, 507.
224. See Ellis, vol. 1, part 1, pp. 27-32, for numerous historic accounts of casual public and family nudity in Europe.
See also Taylor, esp. 22; Lindsay 6; Laver, Modesty in Dress 145; Renbourn 14. Havelock Ellis writes that three
women recited poetry in the nude for Louis XI when he entered Paris in 1461, noting that nudity often played an
important role in ancient festivals (Ellis, vol. 1, part 1, p. 29).
225. Ellis, vol. 2, part 3, p. 98.
226. Wright 41; see also numerous engravings throughout the book.
227. Robinson, Body Packaging 50-51; Ribeiro 45-49, 55. The sumptuary laws of 1463 and 1483 prohibited anyone
"under the rank of a lord . . . from wearing any gowne, jaket or cloke unless it be of sufficient length on a man
standing upright to cover his privy member and buttokkes." The phrase about "standing upright" was added in the
1483 law, because men of lower rank were getting away with wearing short tunics on the grounds that they were
covered when they were sitting down.
228. Robinson, Body Packaging 62; Ribeiro 52, 68, 80-82, 175; Shields 289-91.
229. Ribeiro 52, 82, 175. The clergy of the period condemned women to hell for exposing too much breast. In 1637,
for instance, Pierre Juvernay of Paris claimed that women who showed their breasts in this lifetime would have them
tortured in the next (Shields 291).
230. Ableman 50, 68, 84. See also Lindsay 11. Aileen Ribeiro notes that by the mid 1860s, women had adopted
bathing costumes, "but it was not a universal practice for men to wear bathing costumes until the Edwardian period.
. . . Until that time, men could often bathe naked, although by the late 1890s a number of local authorities had begun
to put up notes enjoining the wearing of drawers." (Ribeiro 134, 183)
231. "College Nude Swims" 114-15; Stein 14.
232. McGregor County Park ("Hippy Hollow") in Texas also has a legal nude beach, though recently it has been
under attack by conservative local legislators. For a good history of its historical nude use, which is typical of other
nude beaches, see Harker. See also K. Goodrich for a perspective focusing on the challenges recreation managers
face in areas where nude bathing is controversial.
233. B. Franklin 15:180. In his own words, "I rise early almost every morning, and sit in my chamber, without any
clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season, either reading or writing."
234. Harding 121; Wagenknecht 83-84. Musing at boys bathing in a river, he wrote in his journal: "What a singular
fact for an angel visitant to this earth to carry back in his note-book, that men were forbidden to expose their bodies
under the severest penalties." (Thoreau 92)
235. "Alexander Graham Bell" 10.
236. Baxandall, World Guide to Nude Beaches and Resorts 20; L. Goodrich 23-25; L. Siegel 20-21. See also
Whitman's poem "Leaves of Grass." In a letter to the London Sun Bathing Society, Shaw wrote, "I am strongly in
favor of getting rid of every scrap of clothing that we can dispense with. . . . I object also to the excessive use of
clothing to produce idolatry, and stimulate sexuality beyond their natural bounds. And of course I know the
mischief done by making us ashamed of our bodies. . . . On all these points you have my best wishes for your
success as a propagandist." (Shaw 6) Regarding the Englishman's obsession with "correct" clothing, he observed
that "an Englishman thinks he is moral when he is only uncomfortable." (From Man and Superman, quoted in
237. Hochschild 6; Kern 22.
238. Roosevelt 45.
239. Matthews 31; "The Double Standard" 11; W. Martin 299.
240. "Politicians" 6.
241. Clift 32; Baxandall, World Guide to Nude Beaches and Resorts 53.
242. Baxandall, World Guide to Nude Beaches and Recreation 37.
243. "An ACLU Policy" 9; "Bill Clinton's Vacation" 9.
244. "Famed Nudist" 6.
245. North American Guide, back cover; "Celebrities" 16-17.
246. "Bridget Fonda" 8; "The Second Movie Nudist" 97.
247. "Gary Merrill" 8-9.
248. "Another Celebrity" 6.
249. "Amy Grant" 8.
250. Dr. Seuss, The Seven Lady Godivas, first published in 1939.
251. R. Martin 38.
252. Russell 63. See also Braithwaite 126, 148-51, 189, 192, 335; R. Martin 39; Ableman 40. A typical example:
In 1657, "Elizabeth Fletcher, then a girl of sixteen, and 'a very modest, grave young woman, yet contrary to her own
will or inclination, in obedience to the Lord, went naked through the streets of that city, as a sign against that
hypocritical profession they then made there [at Oxford] . . . which profession she told them the Lord would strip
them of.'" (Braithwaite 158)
253. Ableman 40.
254. Ableman 42.
255. Baxandall, World Guide to Nude Beaches and Recreation, p. 40. See also p. 2.