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Summer Swimming

Women wading in water in Sedgwick CountyCool waters help Kansans escape the stifling heat of summer. Before the days of air conditioning, Kansans like Topekan Martha Farnsworth used the refreshing waters near Paxico to cool down. Swimming in ponds and streams was common in the early 1900s. 

Farnsworth and her husband, Fred, took a group of teenagers from her Sunday school class on an annual camping trip. They would pass the time swimming, fishing, and enjoying the outdoors. Martha recorded her memories of these outings in her diary in the 1910s.

In one entry she wrote, “ . . . the water here at this place, is still running and clear, cold and finest ever, for swimming, and we all regret exceedingly, that we must go home tomorrow.”

When swimming by itself wasn’t enough, the teenage campers invented new ways to have fun. Farnsworth wrote, “Around on the big, East bank near the mouth of the Sno-ko-mo, the boys have made a big ‘slippery slide,’ more than 30 ft. high and very steep and both the boys and girls have had a big time there today all day.”

Farnsworth didn’t let the teenagers have all the fun “. . . we all went down the ‘slippery slide’ but Teddy. It is very high and really too steep for any of us but just oceans of fun . . .” 

Swimming attire in the early 20th century could range from everyday wear to heavy clothing made for wading rather than exercise. In the 1920s people began to think of swimming as more than play and the clothing started to change to meet the need. Swimming pools began to gain popularity after the 1896 Olympic Games, when swimming was featured. Few Kansans had access to swimming pools until the 1920s.

Entry: Summer Swimming

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2010

Date Modified: July 2011

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.