home Government Information, Resources and Services A Government Document explores the history of that summer staple, the swim suit!

A Government Document explores the history of that summer staple, the swim suit!

Summer officially arrived a couple of weekends ago, and with it the promise of many hot, sunny days — days just right for a nice dip in a cool body of water. As you gather up your swimming gear for a trip to your favorite secret swimming hole, backyard slip ‘n slide, or social distancing pool, we invite you to consider what that swimming kit would have looked like in years gone by with the help of a government document.

An MU Librarian in Jefferson City in 1969.

Published in 1969, Women’s Bathing and Swimming Costume in the United States is a paper from the Smithsonian Institution’s Bulletin series. In it, costume historian Claudia B. Kidwell traces the evolution of the bathing costume and, later, the swimming costume, starting in the late 18th century. At the same time, she sheds light on history of the sport itself.

In the late 1700s and into the 1850s, long linen or flannel bathing gowns were worn by bathers such as Martha Washington when they went for therapeutic plunges in mineral springs (p.6-7). These loose gowns resembled the chemise, an undergarment also worn at the time, but were usually in dark colors to better hide the figure. Some had weighted hems or were belted to keep them in place when entering the water (p.14-15).

Next, from the 1840s to 1870s, came the bifurcated bathing dress featuring pantaloons under a long overdress or combination of blouse and skirt made of woolen, linen or serge fabric. This style gave bathers more freedom to frolic in the waves on the seashore. Some of the ankle length drawers, or bloomers, featured suspenders, while others were belted. Straw bathing hats, a hooded bathing mantle or cloak, and manila or cork slippers completed the ensemble (p. 16-20).

A swim cap in 1942.

Starting in the 1880s and into the first quarter of the 20th century, the princess style bathing dress was to be found worn by beach-goers. A combination blouse and drawers with a removable skirt, this style allowed even more activity in the water. The skirt could be taken off while swimming, then modestly buttoned back to the waist when out of the water. Serge and mohair fabrics in dark blue and black were commonly used. Sleeves began to shorten during this time, and the use of knitted bathing tights instead of drawers or knickerbockers appeared in the 1890s. Waxed linen, oiled silk, or rubber bathing caps, sometimes covered by a bright turban, protected the hair (p.21-23).

By 1917, there were a two main options for bathing suits: a loose straight suit with no waistline worn with a belt or sash at the hips or the short-sleeved surplice suit with a skirt and bloomers. A third option, the knitted jersey suit, was reserved for expert swimmers (p.26-27). And with the growing popularity of swimming, such swimming suits all but replaced the prior bathing costumes in the 1920s (p.24).

Advertisement from the May 1923 issue of Vanity Fair.

The earliest swimming suits for women appeared in the 1880s; called “bathing jerseys”, they were form-fitting tunics that reached mid-thigh, featured high necks and cap sleeves, and were worn over trunks and stockings or tights (p.24). Knitted one-piece, skirtless swimsuits of the style typical for men were worn by pioneering women swimmers in the late 1900s and 1910s (p.26). By the 1920s, one- and two-piece knitted swimming suits were available; they were worn with stockings and satin or canvas slippers and accompanied by a beach cloak or wide-collared bathing wraps, colorful beach hats, and parasols (p.28). Necklines and armholes grew lower as the decade progressed and by the 1930s, when having a sun tan became popular, “swimming suits covered less of the bather” (p.30).

An MU Librarian’s grandparents on their honeymoon in Mexico in 1946.

In the 30s, colorful suits featuring novelty effects were produced as swimsuits became stylish as well as functional. The introduction of man-made fabrics and elastic yarn were important innovations in the emerging swim suit industry. The 1940s saw the first bikini arrive in the U.S. from France, while in the 1950s swim suits were designed to sculpt and control the figure with the help of the skillful use of fabrics and plastic boning (p.31-32).

As shown in this highlight of Ms. Kidwell’s interesting look at the history of swimwear, the bathing and swimming costumes worn by our ancestors mirrored the changing social acceptability of swimming over the years. So as you put on your goggles this weekend, give a thought to those who used to swim swathed in yards of fabric or in itchy wool suits!

An MU Librarian’s grandfather in the mid 1930s.
At the beach in 1935!
An MU Librarian’s grandmother at the pool in Kansas City in the late 1940s.

Lindsay Yungbluth

Lindsay Yungbluth is a Library Information Specialist at Ellis Library where she works in Government Documents.

home Government Information, Resources and Services Take a Look at the Fashions of the First Ladies with Government Documents

Take a Look at the Fashions of the First Ladies with Government Documents

With the opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute’s annual fashion exhibition coming up next week (accompanied, of course, by the opening celebration Gala on Monday), May means fashion. To add to this month’s conversation on fashion and its place in society, we are excited to showcase the delightful government publication The Dresses of the First Ladies of the White House by Margaret Brown Klapthor.

Published in 1952 by the Smithsonian Institution, this book contains images of dresses worn by First Ladies, from Martha Dandridge Curtis Washington to Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, lovingly displayed on a plaster figure with the appropriate accessories, coiffure and posture of the woman who wore them.

Detailed descriptions of each dress, as well as a portrait and brief biographical sketch of each woman, are also included. The gowns, which belong to a collection of the United States National Museum, “represent the changes in fashions in this country from the administration of President George Washington through the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt” as Klapthor says in her introduction.

Klapthor authored two supplements to this title, The Gown of Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1958) and The Gown of Mrs. John F. Kennedy (1963), to extend her survey of fashion through the Kennedy administration.

To view the gown of your favorite First Lady, visit the Government Information department at Ellis Library.


All images from Dresses of the First Ladies of the White House, by Margaret B. Klapthor, 1952.

home Government Information Historic climatological publications available from the National Centers for Environmental Information

Historic climatological publications available from the National Centers for Environmental Information

This winter has certainly been one for the history books when it comes to weather—it is a rare event indeed for Chicago to be colder than the North Pole! Weather data is fascinating, but knowing where to go to find historical data can be tricky.

Luckily, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information exists to preserve and provide public access to the Nation’s weather data and information! Their site has an impressive digital archive of historical climatological data publications, with access to series such as Climatological Data, Storm Data, Hourly Precipitation Data, Monthly Climatic Data for the World, Local Climatological Data, and more.

The Weather Bureau’s Climatological Data series, for example, is a monthly publication with an annual edition as well. The monthly issues contain tables of daily maximum and minimum temperatures and precipitation amounts at over 8000 weather stations all across the nation, while the annual gives an overview of the year, including temperature extremes and freeze data. They are issued by state, and date all the way back to 1884!

These could be used to find out what the weather was like a hundred years ago today, on days of historical significance, on the day you were born, or more. Most fascinating, don’t you think?




home Government Information, Resources and Services Government Documents give a glimpse at the beginnings of Daylight Saving Time in the U.S.

Government Documents give a glimpse at the beginnings of Daylight Saving Time in the U.S.

“This daylight-saving plan will afford an opportunity to many thousands of working people, those who work in offices and in factories and in mills and probably in mines, and on railroads, so that if they feel disposed they will have an opportunity to use an hour in the evening, or more, to till their gardens. If we are going to start an individual conservation scheme, and it looks as though that idea is going to take root, it will be one of the blessings that will grow out of this world difficulty. It will get the people back to the land, if it is only a square rod or two. It will give them an opportunity to know how to raise produce.”

Thus spoke Mr. Arthur E. Holder, representing the American Federation of Labor, at a hearing before the Committee on Interstate Commerce on Thursday, May 3, 1917, where he was adding his voice to the support of a bill to establish a daylight saving time in the United States.

Harris & Ewing, photographer. Senate Sergeant at Arms Charles Higgins turns forward the Ohio Clock for the first Daylight Saving Time, while Senators William Calder NY, William Saulsbury, Jr. DE, and Joseph T. Robinson AR look on, U.S. Capitol building, Washington, D.C. [Between 1910 and 1920] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.
With the end of this year’s Daylight Saving Time approaching on November 4th, MU Libraries’ historical government document collection can shed a little light on the early days of national daylight saving laws (there have been many) in the United States – a little something to think about as you turn your clocks back.

The 1958 Interstate Commerce Commission monograph Standard Time by Thomas E. Pyne examines the Standard Time Act, the result of ‘the agitation for ‘daylight saving’ during World War I to conserve fuel and increase national efficiency”, which caused the first national daylight saving to be inaugurated at 2 o’clock on March 31, 1918.

“The act, approved March 19, 1918, is entitled ‘An act to save daylight and to provide standard time for the United States.’ It served a twofold purpose. It divided the territory of the continental United States into five zones, eastern, central, mountain, Pacific, and Alaska…. It also provided that the time of each zone should be advanced 1 hour on the last Sunday in March of each year and returned to normal time on the last Sunday of October…”

The document gives a glimpse of the situation prior to this act, when each State adopted one of four standards of time “for its own use by statute, ordinance, or more usually, public sentiment or habits”:

“The areas embracing the States, cities, towns, and railroads observing the same standard of time were so irregular as to preclude an attempt to define them even approximately. In some instances localities employed a different time form that of the railroad serving them, and in other instances two railroads serving the same point used different standards of time.”

Imagine how difficult that must have made coordinating travel and the transport of goods!

While the daylight saving provision of this Standard Time Act was short lived (it ended after only two summers), other national daylight saving laws have a curious history in the U.S.—one was reinstated year round during World War II, another was passed in 1966, more—that you can learn more about by visiting the Government Information department at Ellis Library after you enjoy an extra hour of sleep on Sunday.

And now you know a bit more about daylight saving time in the United States, how it was initially coupled with the standardization of the time zones and how it was influenced by railroads and the World Wars.

home Staff news Concannon’s LibGuide Highlighted by HathiTrust

Concannon’s LibGuide Highlighted by HathiTrust

Congrats to Marie on having her Prices & Wages guide highlighted by HathiTrust.