Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library

Naked: A Cultural History of American Nudism

Brian Hoffman
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 336
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In 1929, a small group of men and women threw off their clothes and began to exercise in a New York City gymnasium, marking the start of the American nudist movement. While countless Americans had long enjoyed the pleasures of skinny dipping or nude sunbathing, nudists were the first to organize a movement around the idea that exposing the body corrected the ills of modern society and produced profound benefits for the body as well as the mind. Despite hostility and skepticism, American nudists enlisted the support of health enthusiasts, homemakers, sex radicals, and even ministers, and in the process, redefined what could be seen, experienced, and consumed in twentieth-century America.

    Nakedgives a vibrant, detailed account of the American nudist movement and the larger cultural phenomenon of public nudity in the United States. Brian S. Hoffman reflects on the idea of nakedness itself in the context of a culture that wrestles with an inherent sense of shame and conflicting moral attitudes about the body. In exploring the social and legal history of nudism, Hoffman reveals how anxieties about gender, race, sexuality, and age inform our conceptions of nakedness. The book traces the debates about distinguishing deviant sexualities from morally acceptable display, the legal processes that helped bring about the dramatic changes in sexuality in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the explosion in eroticism that has increasingly defined the modern American consumer economy. Drawing on a colorful collection of nudist materials, films, and magazines,Nakedexposes the social, cultural, and moral assumptions about nakedness and the body normally hidden from view and behind closed doors.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-4465-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Going Naked
    (pp. 1-16)

    On December 5, 1929, over spareribs with mustard and sauerkraut, three German immigrants met at New York City’s Café Micholob to discuss the possibility of bringing nudism to the United States. It was then that Kurt Barthal, now known as the founder of America’s oldest nudist group, launched the American League for Physical Culture.¹ The three dinner companions had enjoyed participating in the popular German nudist movement known asNacktkulturand yearned for a similar organization in the United States. Yet exposing the body to the sun, light, and air to correct the ills of modern society and to receive...

  5. 1 INDECENT EXPOSURE: The Battle for Nudism in the American Metropolis
    (pp. 17-47)

    The first men and women to go naked in New York City for the purposes of improving their health grabbed headlines when police raided the Heart of New York Gymnasium on the night of December 8, 1931. However, no sooner had theNew York Timesannounced the official arrival of nudism in the United States with the ominous headline “24 Seized in Raid on Nudist Cult Here”¹ than it reported the dismissal of all the charges against the naked men and women.² The article explained that Judge Jonah Goldstein did not necessarily agree with “nudity in a gymnasium,” but he...

  6. 2 OUT IN THE OPEN: Rural Life, Respectability, and the Nudist Park
    (pp. 48-86)

    After attending a showing ofThis Nude Worldat the Castle Theater in Chicago, Alois Knapp and his wife, Lorena, decided to convert their two-hundred- acre farm located in Roselawn, Indiana, into a nudist camp. Although they had never dreamed that they would go into the “nakedness business,” the idyllic scenes that they had seen on screen—of nude men and women frolicking naked in Germany, France, and the United States—profoundly affected the couple, who had privately enjoyed “sunbaths for over ten years.”¹ Witnessing the unfriendly reception that nudist proposals received in Rogers Park, the couple thought that Lorena’s...

  7. 3 BETWEEN THE COVERS: Nudist Magazines and Censorship in Midcentury America
    (pp. 87-130)

    To prosper in the United States, the nudist movement needed to overcome long-standing obscenity statutes that limited nudists’ ability to produce and distribute their publications. In addition to facing opposition from hostile neighbors in Rogers Park, being outlawed by the New York State legislature, and suffering legal setbacks in the Ring trial in Allegan, Michigan, the nudist movement chafed against federal laws designed to impede the distribution and importation of scandalous materials. In 1933, the U.S. Customs Service seized Maurice Parmelee’sNudism in Modern Lifewhen the John Lane Company shipped twelve copies of its British edition to the United...

  8. 4 NAKED IN SUBURBIA: Family Values and the Rise of the Nudist Resort
    (pp. 131-168)

    The August 1946 issue ofSunshine and Healthprinted a letter from a soldier who recently returned from serving overseas. Having discovered nudism in Europe, the soldier expressed enthusiasm for the lifestyle and an interest in the movement from a “health angle.”¹ At first glance, the letter confirmed the beginning of a long-anticipated and unprecedented period of growth and prosperity for American nudism, spurred on by interested veterans and a pent-up desire for leisure. As a self-admitted “single man,” however, the letter writer complained that several groups did not welcome him into their clubs.² Club managers informed him that they...

  9. 5 PORNOGRAPHY VERSUS NUDISM: The Contradictions of Twentieth-Century Sexual Liberalism
    (pp. 169-208)

    In March 1947, the U.S. Post Office seizedSunshine and Health(S&H) from the mails in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and several cities in Ohio. The coordinated actions by local post offices across the country signaled an unprecedented effort to remove the flagship nudist magazine from the mails. While officials had long tolerated nudist representations that resembled the young attractive Vargas Girls ofEsquireor the nude female centerfolds inPlayboy,they objected to the recent effort by the magazine to show the genitalia of naked men, women, and children as well as a range of body types not normally...

  10. 6 FREE THE BEACH: Nudism and Naturism after the Sexual Revolution
    (pp. 209-250)

    By the late 1960s, the naked bodies that nudists had fought so hard to liberate from long-standing obscenity laws and social prejudices began appearing almost everywhere in American life and culture. At music concerts, in Broadway performances, on college campuses, in avantgarde art films—as well as in Hollywood blockbusters—and as part of protest marches, young adults across the country chose to remove their clothes for the entire world to see.¹ The baby boomers coming of age in the late 1960s brandished their naked bodies to challenge what they perceived to be the hypocritical values and social customs of...

  11. EPILOGUE: Nudism in the New Millennium
    (pp. 251-262)

    In the 1990s, recreation, commercialism, and profits replaced the progressive sexual politics that had divided nudists and naturists since the late 1960s. As the American economy began to surge on the profits of Internet companies, financial speculation allowed by the deregulation of the banking industry, and the beginnings of a volatile real estate bubble, nudism and naturism experienced an enormous period of growth. The number of nudist clubs and resorts affiliated with the American Sunbathing Association jumped from 189 in 1983 to more than 260 by 2002. Membership also climbed 20 percent, increasing to fifty thousand duespaying members, almost 80...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 263-308)
    (pp. 309-322)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 323-330)
    (pp. 331-331)