Democratizing the Beach - A Level Playing Field for Women and Men


Is it fair that only men get to walk around without a top on at the beach? American society has not truly leveled the playing field for women who wish to have equal rights. However, things were much more restrictive for women 100 years ago when they were required to wear dresses during a day at the beach. Pictured is yesteryear (circa 1909) and today, 2011. The photos were taken at California beaches.

The Democratizing of the Beach, Or Why Your Great Grandmother Never Played Volleyball, takes a pleasurable stroll into the 19th century with a trip to the beach. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was hard getting people to go to the beach on vacation. It took a lot of convincing, in fact. They were promised pleasant breezes, healthy benefits from salt water, and picnics, but certainly not surfing, volleyball or bikinis.

It's not too difficult to figure out that attitudes and fashion changed. It took pioneering women like Annette Kellerman to fight for women's rights to compete in swimming contests wearing swimwear that made sense. You don't see men today lamenting the past and wishing women would return to wearing heavy dresses down below their knees at the beach!

Learn how seaside attitudes and fashion changed, when the Museum of Ventura County presents Democratizing the Beach: From Therapy to Recreation, by historian Robert C. Ritchie, on Saturday, August 27, 2011 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Admission is $10 for the general public, and includes entry to all museum galleries. For reservations, call 805-653-0323 x 7.

Dr. Ritchie's talk illustrates how beach culture shifted during the 19th century from an emphasis on the therapeutic value of seawater to interest in the recreational pleasures of a trip to the shore. He will also look at the changing attitudes about appropriate beach attire. Ritchie's lecture accompanies the museum's current Splash! exhibition, which includes historic photographs of Ventura's 1900s seaside attractions, 1920s and 1960s bathing suits from the museum's collection, an exploration of 1960s surf culture, and a detailed look back at Ventura's former Bath House, unique Tent City and early Pierpont Bay resort. Ocean inspired work by more than 30 regional artists is also part of the exhibit, which runs through September 18.

Ritchie, whose specialty is early American history, is a senior research scholar with the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, where he recently retired as Director of Research for the Huntington's W. M. Keck Foundation. Prior to that he was professor of history and associate chancellor at the University of California, San Diego.

The Museum of Ventura County is located at 100 East Main Street in downtown Ventura. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Call: (805) 653-0323.

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