University of Virginia Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library

A Life Saver on the Lookout

The American Red Cross Adds Water Safety and Rescue to Its Mission

Life Saver

In the late 19th- and early 20th-century, lifeguards were volunteers, often connected with or trained by the U.S. Coast Guard rescue stations along the seacoasts.  This photograph is probably from Atlantic City, New Jersey, in about 1900.

Later, the American Red Cross, thanks to Wilbert Longfellow, took water safety and rescue as a major mission. Today the Red Cross Lifesaving Certificate and the Water Safety Instructor course are still the standard requirements for lifeguards and swimming lesson teachers.

Note:  The women’s “bathing costumes” in the photograph are similar to the style of the 1920s (as seen in the exhibit section on Marion Robins’ Bathing Costume), however, the later styles were more revealing and comprised of lighter fabrics than the lengthy, wool costumes shown here.

Further Information
Current Red Cross Lifeguard Training
Information on how to become a modern day lifesaver

Swim Wear History
A history of women’s swimwear from the Vintage Fashion Guild

Details about the photograph:   Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, part of the Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection (Detroit Catalogue P, 1906, no. 09338).

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