Campus History

The Red Gym’s Pool

Red Gym swimming pool

Don’t look too closely, gentle readers, or you may get an eyeful. This photo from the 1940s–50s shows male students swimming nude (we’re pretty sure) at the Red Gym.

No, Badgers: absolutely none of the dips in the Red Gym’s pool may be of the skinny variety. That, at least, has been the policy since the late 1970s, and it’s unlikely to change today, as “the tank” was emptied for good and all in the 1990s.

You may think the university began enforcing anti-nudity rules due to an excess of fraternization between masculine and feminine student bodies. Rather it was the opposite: the sexes could not share a pool in peace.

Prior to February 1973, the Red Gym’s pool was for men only, and nude swimming was encouraged. That month, however, a group of female students forced their way into the tank — naked, of course — in order to liberate it from gender segregation. The Daily Cardinal covered the event (under the headline “Blue Water, White Thighs”), and within a year, the pool was coed, clothing required.

Why would feminudists feel the need to free the Red Gym’s pool? There were then two other swimming facilities on campus, one in Lathrop Hall (formerly women only, but coed long before ’73), and another (also coed) at the Natatorium, built in 1961. But those were both overcrowded, and the Red Gym was a sentimental favorite. And so they felt the need to make a splash, literally and figuratively.

Today the Red Gym has no more pool politics, as every whiff of chlorine is gone. The building provides office space for student groups — in particular, the Multicultural Student Center, the LGBT Campus Center, and International Student Services — as well as the Morgridge Center for Public Service. Clothing is still required.

Published in the Fall 2015 issue


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