Monday, May 25, 2015

In Swimsuits on Summer Days, 1920s

If all went well, there would be time between morning and evening milkings to get away, relax and enjoy a break. Away from the farm and the hay, the cows, the orchard. They worked hard. It was summer and time to play.

The River

There was an easy camaraderie among Julia, her brothers Joe and John (standing on the pier), and Lew (possibly the photographer). They were the middle siblings of nine and very close. Julia’s husband Ben (front left) fit right in with her brothers. Their close family friend Eunice and her beau Stanley rounded out the group, as they often did.

Carefree for a while, they enjoyed the water, the sunshine, and the companionship at the river. The brothers were all home from the war. Julia and Eunice probably brought a picnic lunch. The Russian River in Sonoma County, California, drew locals as well as tourists from San Francisco. Here at Mirabel Park Julia, who never learned to swim, would feel safe in the shallow water. Maybe the others didn’t know how to swim either.

Their swimsuits mirrored their freedom from the usual daily chores. The ladies didn’t wear their constricting corsets, baring their arms and legs! The stretchy wool knit suits clung to bodies, revealing shapes and curves, a huge departure from modest swim garments of earlier eras.

 Boyes Springs

Ben and Julia’s ranch lay about two miles west of Boyes Hot Springs, a resort built around natural thermal springs. Like the Russian River, it drew Julia’s family and friends as well as San Francisco vacationers, who ferried across the Golden Gate and then rode a train right to the springs. The pool encouraged relaxing and socializing, not swimming, really. Its shallow mineral waters allowed everyone to stand in it comfortably.

The ladies in the foreground, careful about their hair, wore swimming hats that resembled the cloche hats then in style.

Julia snapped a photo of one extreme diver, probably her brother Lew, in mid swan dive. He worked hard, and he played hard. How did he get up so high? How did he enter the water?

The siblings and friends celebrated their youth in summer weather. Milk the cows, feed the stock, jump in the Model T, and head for a picnic. If there were no flat tires on the way, they should arrive home in time for the evening milking.

The Photographs
Bathers at Mirabel Park: Collection of Joanne Kellar ([address withheld for privacy]), a gift from her grandmother Julia. The Mirabel Park website shows an old postcard taken from the same vantage point.[1]
Overviews of Boyes Hot Springs resort pool: Collection of the author, from Julia’s photo albums.
The diver: Collection of the author, from K.R. “Lew” Lewis photo collection.

The People in 1920
Ben and Julia (Lewis) Streeter, the author’s grandparents, resided in El Verano, Sonoma County, California, two miles from Boyes’ Springs.[2]
Julia’s brothers, Joe, John, and Kandido “Lew” Lewis were all living on Sonoma County farms, where they worked as hired hands.[3] Friend Eunice Silva lived in Santa Rosa, where she worked as a nurse.[4] Her husband-to-be Stanley Walkerdine, the only non-farmer among the men, worked in the steel industry in San Francisco.[5]

The Diver
This photograph is in the loose photo collection of K.R. “Lew” Lewis. It appears to have been taken at the same time as the two other photos of Boyes Springs, which were glued into Julia’s photo album. Possibly Julia took the photos and shared one with her brother.

The Swimwear
Comparison with photos from a few online sources suggests the early 1920s for these swimsuits and, by extension, these photos.[6]

[1] “Historical Links,” Mirabel RV Park & Campground ( The link to the historical photos is currently broken.
[2] 1920 U.S. Census, Sonoma County, California, population schedule, Sonoma, ED 153, sheet 4A, dwelling/family 105, Benjamin E. Streeter household; NARA microfilm T625, roll 150.
[3] [Joe] 1920 U.S. Census, Sonoma County, California, population schedule, Sonoma, ED 154, sheet 7B, dwelling 165, family 177, Roy McReynolds household; NARA microfilm T625, roll 151; [John] 1920 U.S. Census, Sonoma County, California, population schedule, Petaluma, ED 141, sheet 13B, dwelling [blank], family 32, George Hammerman household; NARA microfilm T625, roll 151; [Lew] 1920 U.S. Census, Sonoma County, California, population schedule, Sonoma, ED 162, sheet 2A, dwelling 29, family 3 [number of persons in family], Frederick A. Lowell household; NARA microfilm T625, roll 150.
[4] 1920 U.S. Census, Sonoma County, California, population schedule, Santa Rosa, ED 153, sheet 8B, dwelling/family 205, J. P. Silva household; NARA microfilm T625, roll 151.
[5] 1920 U.S. Census, San Francisco County, California, population schedule, San Francisco, ED 96, sheet 6A, dwelling 61, family 178, Sidney A. Boden household; NARA microfilm T625, roll 134.
[6] Dolores Monet, “Women and Fashions of the Early 20th Century—World War I Era—Clothing of 1914-1920,” HubPages ( : accessed 23 May 2015). Also, Sophia Ellis, “Have Times Changed for the Better? A Look Back at Women’s Swimwear,” Hello Giggles ( : accessed 23 May 2015). Also, “Swimsuit,” Encyclopedia Britannica ( : accessed 23 May 2015). Finally, Pauline Weston Thomas, “Women’s Swimwear: Swimsuit Fashion History 1920-2000,” Fashion-Era ( : accessed 23 May 2015.

© 2015 Judy Kellar Fox, CG,