It was in the 20th Century when social nudism really became organized. Organized naturism at this time was called Freikorperkultur (Free Body Culture) in Germany. German sociologist Heinrich Pudor, sometimes referred to as the "father of nudism", wrote "The Cult of the Nude" promoting naturism. Shortly after, in 1903, Freilichtpark (Free Light Park) was the first know nudist park to be opened. Founder Paul Zimmerman opened the park near Hamburg, Germany, and was the first owner of an official nudist camp.
In 1929 the flow of German immigrants and tourists began bringing the roots and ideals of the naturist lifestyle to America. It was their representation of the nude body that truly opened the American public's eyes to wholesome nudity without shame. Kurt Barthel, a German immigrant, founded the American League for Physical Culture. Another key figure is Reverend Ilsley Boone, who is viewed as the first nudist leader in the United States.
The first nudist magazine, Gymnos, started print in 1921.
On Labor Day in 1929, Kurt Barthel met with 3 other couples in Peekskill, New York and began American Social Nudism. Just a couple of months later, the American League for Physical Culture (ALPC) was founded on December 7,1929. The ALPC held their first meeting in a New York gym. In just a few months the ALPC had over 50 members and also had a landed club in Spring Valley. Mason and Frances Merrill often visited the New York facilities and began working on a new book title "Among the Nudists" which was released in 1931. Also in 1931, Reverend Ilsley Boone was elected Vice President of the ALPC and also nicknamed "The Dictator". Boone had big plans to build an American Camp like Kleinberg in Bavaria, but there, more drama in the world of commercial nudism would begin.
In the winter of 1931 the ALPC met at their rented New York gym and were raided by the police and charged with public indecency. On December 9, 1931 the New York Court of General Sessions dismissed the case saying their exposure was neither public or indecent. The publicity caused by this case was a big step forward for the nudist movement and it also laid the groundwork for public nudity cases to come.
Boone was back on the prowl again looking for land in the New York area to purchase for possible construction of a landed camp. He eventually found land nearly 120 miles from New York. The other board members thought the property was too far for most to travel due to the depression and high costs of travel. The majority voted to jointly purchase a camp in Skyfarm and established the club May 15, 1932. Boone was extremely disappointed in the decision of the other board members and left the ALPC. Shortly thereafter he founded the International Nudist Conference (INC) and published the first illustrated nudist magazine, The Nudist, in 1933. The Nudist was a successful magazine that could be found at newsstands across the nation. The controversy of the magazine drew a lot of public attention to the nudist movement, again. A few years later he changed The Nudist's title to the less confrontational Sunshine and Health. It was with the help of the Merrill's second book, "Nudism in America", and "On Going Naked" by Jan Gay (which also laid the ground work for Mich Mindins 1935 film, "This Nude World") that also helped the public become aware of the size and significance of the nudist movement, and realize that clubs were popping up all across the nation.
In the 1930's on a hot summer day, thousands of men in Long Island, New York took of their shirts to cool off, which was an unlawful and lewd act at the time. Six years later, in 1936, the law was changed which decriminalized a man going topless. In the 30's the largest of all nudist clubs/camps were Victor Burke's Camp Olympia in Upstate New York, the Sparta Club in Normandy, and Adolph Koch's nudist school, Freikorparkulturschule, outside Berlin.
The nudist movement began to stall and die down in the late 30's and early 40's due to the overwhelming Puritan belief system engraved in the roots of America, implying that nudity equals sin. Another devastating blow was the 1941 United States Postal Service "Comstock Law" which was originally created in 1873 which stated that no obscene material was permitted to travel through the mail system. Nudist publishers immediately stopped their USPS shipments in fear of fines. It was Reverend Boone who again came to the rescue battling this law through the 40's and 50's in Washington, D.C. to make sure nudism would be judged to be nonsexual, and therefore not obscene. On January 13, 1958, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Boone and all nudists throughout America, especially the publishers, ruling that nudist photos were permitted to travel through the USPS mail system and the photos are not obscene. This ruling was a big relief to nudists and especially the growth of the nudist movement. From here on out, the public knew that the nudist movement would flourish and was here to stay. Eventually the Police raids reduced until the last one took place in Michigan in 1956. A Christian radio evangelist took it into his liberty to close down the Sunshine Gardens Nudist Resort. Although, to our satisfaction, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled naturists had the right to practice nudism with private resorts and this is exactly why we call the 1950's the Golden Era of Nudism.
Today the nudist movement still struggles to be accepted by mainstream America. Each day throughout the world, there are several news stories that hit the wire including, streaking, nude art, nudist camp controversies, and some of the latest attacks on Nudist Youth Summer Camps. All of the stories are mainly media stunts that have no actual legal consequences and are usually swept off the print room floor quickly. Today there are still many organizations working together to promote naturism/nudism including CFI, AANR, INF, TNS and several more. It is these organizations that battle the courts, advertise and promote to the general public, and most importantly, educate those who are unaware of the ideals and benefits of nude recreation.
(Source: Written by Cory M. President of ClothesFree International, Inc. )