In the beginning, First Ladies were given no dispensation when it came to figuratively swimming in their bathing suits alongside the Presidents. Regardless of their nationally elevated marital status, they were expected to lead their countrywomen by example. So it was no skin for almost a century.
Since ancient times, women enjoyed bathing in pools and mineral springs and, later in time, swimming vigorously out into the ocean, as much as men. It’s just that, like practically everything else in life, they were restricted from readily doing so as their male counterparts on the premise that it was “morally indecent” for them to permit their bare arms or even ankles to be glimpsed publicly or that the “weaker sex” were prone to drowning easily.
George Washington, for example, could slip into the outdoor mineral bath at Berkeley Springs, Virginia stark naked but Martha Washington had to not only wear a muslim gown but one which had metal weights sewn into the bottom hem, to prevent it from rising up when she went into the water. Abigail Adams simultaneously marveled and tsk-tsked at the sight of ankles of Brighton Beach’s brazen British babes flocking the waters in thin muslin that clung to the thighs when wet or blew up a bit in the breeze. When her daughter-in-law Louisa Adams took her 1825 summer vacation as First Lady, she went without the President to join a group of strictly gals for lake boating and bathing in Bordentown, New Jersey, dressed not in just a cumbersome cotton dress, but sunbonnet too.
Just before the Civil War freed the slaves, some liberation came to free women who swam. Despite her reputation for remaining indoors, Jane Pierce actually relished the chance to chill out in the 1850s summers be it spring or shore. Harriet Lane and Mary Lincoln (as a widow) were big on the springs only. By 1869, incumbent First Lady Julia Grant was hitting the Jersey shore and even depicted in her bathing suit by an illustrated newspaper, appearing far thinner and blonder than she really was.
By the turn of the century, young girls
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