March 1, 1915: Parks Superintendent announces bathing suit contest

This sketch accompanied the Duluth News Tribune story announcing the bathing suit design content. (Image: Zenith City Press)

On this day in Duluth in 1915, Park Superintendent Henry Cleveland announced a contest for the best design for a woman’s bathing suit to be used at the city’s first municipal bathing beach. (The suits would be massed produced and rented to bathers, who would change in changing stations at the beach.) Cleveland, on the suggestion of Mayor William Prince, decided to open the city’s first municipal “bathing beach” at the mouth of Kingsbury Creek beginning in the summer of 1915. According to Zenith City’s Nancy Nelson, “The 71-year-old Cleveland announced that men and women would have separate areas at the beach. As he explained to the News Tribune, ‘The bathing beach will be so divided that families, young women, young men, and juniors will have the use of their portions of the beach, safe, untrammeled and care free.’” Cleveland also banished ‘form-fitting’ bathing suits, but he was willing to consider public opinion on what type of suit would be acceptable. He told the News Tribune, ‘Personally, I think all bathing suits must have skirts, but let’s hear from the people….’” Despite his conservative viewpoint, he had a great sense of humor, and offered a $5 prize for a contest to design the best “appropriate” bathing costume for women. The guidelines for the contest were “Send in just the kind of costume you think would look the ‘nicest’ and still ‘get by.’ But don’t make your drawing too bold.” For the next two weeks, sketches of bathing suit designs filled the newspaper. You can read much more about the contest and see many more sketches of  contest designs—including the winner, the “Statuesque,” designed by Mrs. M. P. St. Pierre—here.

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