A Sparkling Vintage Life

31 Days of a Sparkling Vintage Summer, Day 16: Learn to swim, Camp Fire style!

camp fire girls swimming Back on Day 9 I suggested that you all take a dip in a nearby lake, pond, or pool. But if it so happens that you don’t know how to swim, that could end rather badly! So today I’m offering up some advice about learning to swim, from The Book of the Camp Fire Girls, circa 1913.

“Now the first and most important step to take in learning to relax in the water is to discover how friendly it is to you, how readily it will support you, if you don’t stiffen up! You will be interested to see how beautiful the light is if you open your eyes under water and how long your breath will hold out if you don’t try to be too greedy about storing up a lot before going under.

“Keep your body relaxed and your mind full of the assurance that it is hard to sink. Make a game of learning to exhale under water. Watch the bubbles catch the light as they float to the surface. A number of jolly little games make it fun for a group to grow to fee as much at home under the water as on top. Once you feel that way and have mastered the art of breathing, the learning of the different strokes is merely a matter of patience and practice and perseverance.”

The Camp Fire Girl philosophy of being of service to others comes through loud and clear. “All this skill falls short of our highest goal if it gives gratification to ourselves alone. It is fine to reach the point where we know ourselves to be no longer a risk to others, but how much greater happiness comes when we are capable of helping others. It is a fact that a number of times girls who have learned a method of resuscitation at camp have been instrumental in restoring life at public swimming places.. Even actual rescues have been made by old campers.”

Camp Fire designated several levels of swimming skill. To be declared a Pollywog, the swimmer had to be able to duck three times and bring up stone or sand from the bottom of the lake; float motionless for fifteen seconds; swim two strokes; and jump off the dock three times into water over her heads. A Frog had to swim twenty-five feet, turn around, and swim back to the starting point, open her eyes underwater, float on her back or tread water for two minutes, and do a kneeling dive off the dock. A Fish had to swim one hundred yards; make a standing front dive; swim using only her feet or only her arms; tow a person fifteen feet; and assist the Pollywogs. And to reach the coveted Flying Fish level, the swimmer had to handle a boat in moderately windy weather; tie a slip knot; make three good landings at a dock and on the shore; demonstrate resuscitation techniques; swim five hundred years; swim one mile over three days; pass the Red Cross Life Saving requirements; and handle boat patrol during swimming periods.

They were no slouches, these Camp Fire Girls! But the writer clearly understood she was addressing young girls when she added, “Don’t shriek for the fun of it. It makes it very hard for the instructor’s voice to be heard but worse than that, it makes it impossible to distinguish a real call for assistance.”

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