Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Linda Borish

Second Advisor

Judith Stone

Third Advisor

Dr. Nora Faires

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


This thesis examines American aquatic stars of public acclaim as displayers of clothing, and how their changing swimwear shaped the debate over physical culture, femininity, modesty, and gender roles in sport and consumer culture during the 1920s and 1930s. Performing in shortened, functional athletic attire, leading swimmers and divers conveyed cultural messages about athleticism and femininity through their athletic accomplishments and their multiple representations of the female body clothed in swimming attire. It also considers how these female aquatic luminaries, in a sphere traditionally defined as male, shaped American culture by providing a public platform from which the entire sporting community discussed shifting gender expectations in sport and society.

The thesis analyzes swimwear and the sporting body as material evidence in understanding the sporting experiences of women in early twentieth century America. An interdisciplinary methodology that incorporates a range of written, archival, and material culture evidence reveals culturally constructed views about, and challenges to, notions of femininity, gender and athleticism, and consumption patterns. This thesis demonstrates how female aquatic standouts, as key participants and national figures in both consumer and sporting culture, presented swimming attire and athletic-looking bodies as desirable and accessible outcomes and elements of their active swimming pursuits.

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