The pool at Samuel Recreation Center is set to open on Friday, June 21. Credit: Sydney Schaefer / Billy Penn

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Read the news of the day in less than 10 minutes — not that we’re counting.

Come Monday morning, free swim days at Philly public pools will belong to everyone, regardless of their gender.

It might’ve been the fastest policy change in the history of local government.

On Tuesday, June 26, at 3:42 p.m., city resident Dena Driscoll called out Philly Parks & Rec on Twitter, asking for an explanation behind the department’s policy to offer gender-segregated swim days at city pools. Could it be for religious reasons, she mused, or was it an effort to prevent harassment? And how might it affect transgender Philadelphians?

On Wednesday just after 1 p.m., the department responded on Twitter, informing Driscoll that they had immediately changed the policy and ended the practice of offering gender-segregated swim days. On July 2, all public pools would officially discontinue swim days segregated by gender.

Parks & Rec confirmed to Billy Penn that the new free swim schedule was approved by Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell and Deputy Commissioner Orlando Rendon.

That’s just 22 hours from callout to action. Twenty-two hours, people.

Protecting ‘women’s modesty’

Per a Parks & Rec spokesperson, “single-sex swimming schedules” have been a “longstanding” practice to reduce overcrowding. Other sources cite “inappropriate contact among swimsuit-clad young people” as the reason the city implemented separation.

As the story goes, Philly began building its first public pools in the late 1800s. At the time, they were meant to serve as public baths for poor people who couldn’t afford their own bathrooms at home. Men and boys bathed on some days, and women and girls on others.

The practice stuck around for awhile, even as the popularity of public pools grew.

“Sexuality and concerns about sexuality have profoundly shaped the use and regulation of municipal pools,” writes author Jeff Wiltse in his book Contested Waters.

“During the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, cities gender-segregated pools in order to protect women’s modesty and protect them from advances by anonymous men. Gender separation also served as a means of social control. It limited the opportunities unrelated males and females had to meet and interact in public, thereby maintaining traditional family authority over mixed-gender socializing and courtship.”

Thanks, Councilman Kenney

Fast forward to 2001, when the policy drew some criticism after a South Philadelphia mother was chastised for bringing her seven-month-old son into the pool at Barry Playground on a “girls day.”

At the time, then-City Councilman Jim Kenney denounced the policy, and suggested Parks & Rec reconsider.

Reconsider they did. Two weeks after Kenney’s statement, then-Recreation Commissioner Vic Richards responded by discontinuing the practice at most Philly public pools. (Psh, two weeks. Hey 2001, y’all ever heard of Twitter?)

But even then, the policy hadn’t quite ended. This year, Samuel Recreation Center and Murphy Recreation Center were the only two pools out of more than 70 in the city to continue segregating free swim days by gender.

Those two held on tight to the policy until, well, this week.

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Michaela Winberg

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...