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    Unintended Consequences: bathhouses and the expansion of occupational opportunities for Victorian women

    Day, David ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6511-1014 (2022) Unintended Consequences: bathhouses and the expansion of occupational opportunities for Victorian women. In: Von der Schwimmkunst zum Badevergnügen und Schwimmsport 16. Irseer sporthistorische Konferenz / 10. Symposium der Deutschen Arbeitsgemeinschaft von Sportmuseen, Sportarchiven und Sportsammlungen e.V. (DAGS), 20 May 2022 - 22 May 2022, Schwabenakademie Irsee, Klosterring, Germany. (Unpublished)

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    Abstract

    The building of Municipal swimming facilities in Britain following the 1846 and 1878 Bath and Washhouses Acts was initiated by a desire among respectable middle-class gentlemen to improve the moral and physical health of the working classes. These Baths provided arenas for social interaction and the regulation of physical activities and one unintended consequence of their construction was the development of swimming as a sporting activity as clubs were created and a national governing body was established. A second, and arguably equally important outcome, was that it stimulated the aquatic employment opportunities available to women, both as practitioners and administrators. The small group of female ‘bathers’ who were operating at seaside resorts at the beginning of the century expanded to include several professional natationists, swimming teachers, baths attendants, baths matrons, and clerks, as a Victorian ideology that demanded separate provision for female swimmers took full effect. The ultimate manifestation of this process was the appointment of Britain’s first female Olympic coach in the person of Clara Jarvis to the women‘s swim team for the 1912 Games in Stockholm. This paper explores this phenomenon, utilising a variety of sources, including archives, census enumerator returns, and contemporary newspapers, and illustrates the local impact of these developments through two case studies of Metropolitan Baths created during this period, one in London and one in the provinces. These are augmented with some short biographies that provide exemplars of how the changing environment surrounding swimming enabled individual women to earn their living through aquatic-related occupations and, in some cases, to attain a limited degree of independence, although it is argued here that their working lives were always subject to patriarchal strictures and a considerable degree of misogyny.

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