How to Learn to Swim

The few remarks lately made in this publication on Swimming as a desirable art and exercise for women, have occasioned inquiries as to how women can learn to swim. What means exist, it is asked, for enabling girls to use their limbs in the water?

In such a case as this the supply of a want must follow, and not precede, the demand. When parents show a desire that their daughters should swim, instructors and means will turn up; just as a dancing-school is sure to be instituted in any rising town, when the need of one has been talked of for a little while. First, then, let parents and daughters make known their opinion and wish on the subject; and there will soon be as many swimming-schools in England as there are in France.

In the “Englishwoman’s Journal” of August; 1858, p. 413, there is an account of the opening of a metropolitan swimming-bath for ladies in the Marylebone Road, where instruction is said to be given “by an efficient female teacher.” It seems to me that when we have got” an efficient female teacher,” we have got all we want for the basis of a system of any extent.

There are multitudes of young women on the look out for means of honest subsistence. Why should not the teacher at the St. Marylebone Public Baths instruct ten, or twelve, or twenty strong and willing girls to swim, in order to teach others to swim? The fathers and mothers in any town or village who wish their children to learn should inquire at these baths; and, if there is as yet no supply, should cause a proper young person to be instructed.

Wherever there are good and spacious baths for women there seem to be some women who can swim. At Liverpool, where the baths are admirable, there are several ladies who are perfectly at home in the water. If each of these ladies would instruct some promising girl or girls from the schools in their art, in order to make it their occupation, no doubt the next generation of women in Liverpool would be swimmers in much greater proportion than the present.

Let other towns and any country neighbourhood where there is good water, provide baths of sufficient size — either by mooring bathing-houses in the streams, or by making shallow docks on shore, and teachers will presently offer. If not, it would be no great expense for the combined parentage of a neighbourhood to bring over a swimming mistress from France. There are probably several at the bathing places along the coast; and there are certainly plenty at Paris, if one may judge by the accomplishment of Frenchwomen in the art.

What prevents fathers teaching their own children in infancy? The earliest time is the best for learning an art which is never difficult. In most countries in the world —actually over the greater part of the inhabited globe — the children swim as soon as they walk, if not earlier.

In Egypt, and throughout all Mongolian countries, and among the indigenous races of America, and throughout the negro lands of Africa, and in Polynesia, the human being is amphibious. There children of both sexes can spend the whole day in the water, and explore it at pleasure. Any Nile voyager who has passed the first cataract can tell how it is among the Berber infants, and indeed along the whole course of the Nile.

English children would do the thing just as well if they were put in the way of it. Their mothers are the proper persons to put them in the way of it: and, as the mothers are at present unqualified, the fathers should undertake it. In another generation or two they would be saved the trouble, we may hope, by the mothers being then better qualified. Meantime, it will gratify, and perhaps surprise any parent to see how immediately a little child takes to the art, which really seems like nature to it, if begun sufficiently early.

Wherever public baths are established, it is no doubt practicable to make an arrangement, either to open the swimming-bath on certain fixed days to women, or for giving women a bath to themselves. The whole thing rests with women, or with parents of families. Whenever there is a real demand there will be no want of areas containing five feet of water.

The generation which has multiplied baths and wash houses and drinking fountains, can enable children to swim.

Now that I am referring to former papers of I mine, I will communicate a warning I have received in consequence of a statement in one of them. In treating of the dairy department, in my account of my “Farm of Two Acres,” I spoke of zinc milk-coolers as approved — not by myself, for I have never tried them, but by those who have. In consequence of a hint I soon after received, I have made inquiries, which satisfy me that zinc is condemned by competent chemical authorities as pernicious, in contact with milk. A lactate of zinc is formed which is by no means one of the desirable products of the dairy. I render this explanation in hope that it may stop in time any experimenter who may possibly contemplate the use of zinc milk-coolers from my mention of the material, on the authority of others.

Harriet MARTINEAU.

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About libros19blog

Central Florida
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