Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Health, Physical Education and Recreation

First Advisor

Dr. Donald Greer

Second Advisor

Dr. Jodi Carrigan

Third Advisor

Dr. Frank Brasile


The purpose of this study is to trace the transformation of swimming from its earliest appearance in the literature to its contemporary form as a modern leisure activity. The processes of rationalization, legitimation and democratization are examined in pre-industrial, industrial, and post-industrial societies.

An investigation of the available literature disclosed negative attitudes toward swimming during the Middle Ages which caused a decrease in expressive uses of swimming. After this period, swimming's acceptance as a legitimate leisure activity continued to increase through the industrial and post-industrial eras. The democratization of swimming seemed limited to societies on the coasts of large bodies of water. But democratization widened as artificial pools were built, and changes occurred in economic conditions and social norms which allowed and even encouraged more groups of individuals to participate in aquatic activities.

Literary evidence has revealed that values and beliefs about leisure during the three time periods influenced those of swimming. It was also found that the condition of the work/leisure relationship had a profound affect upon the uses of swimming, and leisure in general.

Assumptions are made on the basis of the limitations of the literature. An unbiased perspective of swimming is absent in the early part of the pre-industrial period which may have caused discrepancies in the analysis. Many contemporary authors have written of the aquatic and leisure activities of earlier societies based on records produced by the literate. Thus the activities of the elite are documented, but those of the "common rabble" often go unrecorded. Although reports of the socially accepted norms regarding swimming as dictated by the church and other institutes are available, they are not always reliable as indicators of actual behavior. Carl Degler suggests, even though certain behaviors are sanctioned by social authorities, public adherence does not necessarily follow. It is concluded that the instrumental uses, social acceptance, and social availability of swimming differed somewhat from what is reported in the literature.


A Thesis Presented to the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Science University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright 1993 Stephanie J. Haas.