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100 years ago in Spokane: Swimming, once seen as a “dangerous” sport, starts to catch on

 (Nathanael Massey / The Spokesman-Review)
(Nathanael Massey / The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokesman-Review was touting a new and exciting exercise fad: swimming.

“Not many years ago, swimming was looked upon as a dangerous and violent sport, only indulged in by the most proficient athletes,” wrote Herbert T. Sutherland, swimming instructor of the Spokane Amateur Athletic Club. “Now even the smallest child, the most delicate woman and the ailing man is advised to take to the water for an hour of delightful swimming … Taken as a whole, swimming is now considered by many physical culturists to be the best all-around exercise.”

Swimming was no longer confined to the summer months. Spokane had three indoor “tanks” (pools), which were open all winter.

“The most modern and expensive tank in Spokane is in the basement of the Spokane Amateur Athletic Club building. Here, nearly every day, there are one or more swimming classes, where beginners are taught the rudiments of this pleasant aquatic sport.”

Many of those swimmers were women, who “are now nearly as numerous as the men in swimming.” The club’s tank was open to women on Monday and Thursday mornings.

“There is great hilarity on these mornings, and the happy shouts of the fair mermaids can be heard throughout the club building,” wrote Sutherland. “The sparkling eyes and glowing complexions of the woman as they leave the building after a morning in the tank speak much for the popular exercise of swimming.”

Some women were serious swimmers. In fact, Miss Peggy Burwell, an assistant instructor in the club, holds every record on the Pacific coast for distances above the mile and for all endurance contests.”

She was pictured in the story’s illustrations of proper form.


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