Women’s Day at the Fifth Street swimming baths

In the 1920s and 1930s, the city began building neighborhood swimming pools for kids (and adults) to cool off in on steamy summer days. 

But back in the 1870s, residents flocked to the pools’ precursors: “swimming baths.” One stood at Fifth Street and the East River; another at Bethune Street and the Hudson (then North) River.

This sketch, from the New York Public Library’s picture collection, depicts “women’s day” at the baths in 1876.


I couldn’t find an account of women’s day, but this June 2, 1884 New York Times article reveals what a boys’ day must have been like—and why women and girls wanted their own time to swim without the distraction of rowdy boys:

“Hundreds of young Neptunes, with grimy faces, stood in crowds at the gang-planks of the free swimming baths before five o’clock yesterday morning, when the various natatorial institutions were thrown open to remain for use until noon.

“[At the Fifth Street Baths] about 800 boys plunged into this bath yesterday morning perhaps a shade less grimy and sundry shades redder.”

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3 Responses to “Women’s Day at the Fifth Street swimming baths”



  2. The swimmobiles that cooled off a hot city | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] beaches, community pools, floating pools docked off the East River—you can’t say New York hasn’t made an effort over the years to keep residents cool on […]

  3. The best place for swimming in the East River | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] during the hot summer months more than poor tenement kids, who couldn’t get into the new public swimming and bathing facilities or preferred the freedom of diving off a city pier with their […]

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