Swimming on Dry Land: 1900

swimming on dry land


Lewis Stevens

It sounds paradoxical to assert that swimming may be learned on dry land, yet such, according to many eminent authorities, is undoubtedly the case. It has been found, after long experience that men and women, and even children, who have studied the various movements of swimming while upon the dry land have become far more proficient in the art than those who commenced by floundering about in the water. This strange theory of learning how to become a successful swimmer was first propounded ten years ago by the English Royal Life Saving Society. The idea was laughed at, and dismissed without any serious consideration whatever. The London School Board was approached, but the theory was too novel and so altogether opposed to accepted ideas that the offer was declined, although the Amateur Swimming Association sent a deputation to the School Board Committee supporting the claims that were advanced.

But, strange to say, although the system has not received the official recognition of the Board, it is in one of their schools that children are being taught upon the dry land to swim in the water.  Miss Kingston, an organizing teacher, with controlling power over certain board schools in the district of Hackney, made a study of all known systems of learning to swim, and she came to the conclusion that the new theory was well worth putting into practice.

She introduced the system, and by dint of perseverance has brought it to perfection, so that now there is not the slightest doubt that the water is not the place in which to learn to swim.

How well the system has worked is shown by Miss Kingston’s report, issued last year. She says: “The swimming and life-saving drill has already proved a great help to the acquisition of the art of swimming. I have visited many schools in the district, at the request of the head teachers, to impart instruction to those children who intended to visit the bath this summer. It is not only an effective and beneficial form of physical exercise, but it materially helps to shorten the amount of time spent by the children in the water in learning the movements.”

French children, it is interesting to note, have for many years past been taught to swim upon dry land in accordance with the new theory. The little ones lie face downward on small stools raised about a foot from the ground, and in this position are taught the movements of swimming.

Breast stroke, first movement.

Breast stroke, first movement.

We publish a number of photographs [Mrs Daffodil has not published all of them.]showing the method in which the classes are conducted, and the movements through which the children are put. Those who understand swimming will readily appreciate the first three pictures, which show the positions and actions of the arms, shoulder, and breast in moving through the water. The fourth illustration shows how the children learn the side stroke.

Breast stroke, second movement

Breast stroke, second movement

The exercises depicted in the fifth and sixth photographs are very useful, and can be explained much more fully upon shore than in the water. In the seventh, the children are being taught how to release themselves from the clutch of a dying person, whilst in the eighth picture they are practising the method of carrying an insensible person in the water—one, for instance, who has met with an accident or who has been seized with cramp.

swimming freeing from drowning1

swimming supporting unconscious

Of course, in connection with the swimming lessons, the children at Miss Kingston’s school are taught how to induce artificial respiration in a drowning person who has been brought to shore, and the method of “turning” such a person in the way most likely to aid in restoring consciousness.

All the children who have been through the course of swimming lessons as arranged by Miss Kingston have turned out remarkably successful swimmers, far more so, indeed, than if they had studied in the old orthodox manner. Many other schools and night classes are adopting the system under Miss Kingston’s direction, and an exhibition given not long ago led all those who were present on that occasion, and favored the old system, to come to the conclusion that, after all, there was something in learning to swim upon the dry land. Perhaps the greatest advantage of the new system is that all children—the timid as well as the daring—have equal opportunities in learning to swim. Under the old regime many children became terribly frightened upon finding themselves in the water, and it was next to impossible to teach them any of the movements. But by going through the various exercises upon the dry land, in a quiet and thorough manner, the children master every detail of the art, and thus, when they at last enter the water, they have infinitely more assurance than they possibly could have did they not know how to support and propel their bodies.

Another advantage of learning to swim upon the dry land is the great saving in time and trouble which is effected; the lessons in this very useful art have been so inadequate on account of the inconvenience entailed by a visit to the swimming baths. Few schools possess baths of their own, and thus it has been necessary, when a lesson in swimming was to be given, to proceed to some public bath. Such a visit would at least occupy a whole morning, and naturally the lessons have not been so frequent as to give them the value they might otherwise possess. Now the school hall or the gymnasium takes the place of the swimming bath, and thus lessons may be conveniently given two or three times a week.

Swimming on dry land is an occupation for the whole year round. It is as much a winter as a summer exercise, and, in fact, the somewhat violent drill is perhaps better suited as a recreation for cold weather than for those months when outdoor bathing is most attractive. We heartily recommend this system to the public schools of America, having no doubt that it will ultimately be adopted.

Everybody’s Magazine, Volumes 1-2, 1900

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This method has been touted as being far more sensible than throwing a young person overboard (with or without a rope) and letting them flounder their way into sinking or swimming. Fair enough, but Mrs Daffodil can only imagine that it is the first step on the primrose path to Rhythmic Dance.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


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