Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Philadelphia Ends Gender Segregation In Public Pools


Two weeks ago, the city of Philadelphia had two public pools that maintained this policy from another era. There were days when only men and boys could swim and days when only women, girls and young children could swim. But the practice of gender-segregated swimming ended this Monday. That came just days after a tweet to the city's parks and rec department questioning the policy.

Michaela Winberg reported the story for the local news website Billy Penn, and she joins us from member station WHYY in Philadelphia. Michaela, hey there. Welcome to the program.

MICHAELA WINBERG: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: Glad to have you with us. So what's the history? Why did these same-gendered swim times come to be in the first place in Philadelphia?

WINBERG: Back in the 1880s, public pools were originally designed to be just sort of public baths for people who could not afford bathrooms in their own homes, that sort of thing. So they instituted these public baths. And naturally, they had separate days for men and boys and for women and girls. And that sort of lasted even as the popularity of public pools grew beyond just that class of people.

KELLY: Let me fast-forward us up to 2001 when a lot of the swimming pools in Philadelphia that had been gender-segregated had a policy change. What happened in 2001? Why did they change?

WINBERG: So at that point, the Philadelphia Daily News reported that a mother in south Philadelphia - she was at Barry Playground, and she took her 7-month-old son into the pool on a girls' day. And she sort of got in trouble for it. She got kicked out.

KELLY: Her 7-month-old son and she got in trouble?

WINBERG: Right. Right, an infant.

KELLY: Wow, all right.

WINBERG: And at the time the city councilman, Jim Kenney, who's now the Philadelphia mayor, recommended that parks and rec, you know, consider changing it. And so at that time, they did change the policy. They rolled back what they called single-sex swimming schedules at most of the pools. There are about 70 public pools in Philly. And they rolled it back at most of those public pools. But there were a couple that sort of lingered.

KELLY: All right, so this brings us up to last week and a conversation that played out on Twitter, a Twitter thread directed at the city's parks and rec department. A woman named Dena Driscoll on June 26 - we've dug it out. June 26, 3:42 p.m., she wrote, can you explain your gendered pool rules to me? Why do some of your pools gender on certain days? And, Michaela, walk us through what happened after that, after that tweet went out.

WINBERG: It seemed to me like a few people responded to her. Some people said, oh, yeah, that's been a long tradition in Philly. I remember that from when I was a kid. Or some people were like, wait; that is really weird. Like, why is that still a thing? And a little less than 24 hours later, parks and rec - the department Twitter actually responded and said basically, it's over. Like, you're right. You've got a point there. And they said effective July 2, which was the most recent Monday, that would no longer be a policy at any pools in the city. So they canceled it at those two remaining pools.

KELLY: Yeah. I mean, you mentioned this is a conversation playing out on Twitter and at public pools in 2018. I'm wondering whether any transgendered people or people who don't identify with a specific gender had weighed in on this debate at all.

WINBERG: Not that I had seen on Twitter. But the Twitter user who called this out, Dena, she asked that exact question. She was like, how does this impact people who are transgender, people who don't identify with a gender? What would the policy be for them? And I think that had to be part of the reason that the whole thing was called off. It just wasn't really fair.

KELLY: That is reporter Michaela Winberg with Billy Penn talking there about the updated swimming pool policy in Philadelphia. Michaela, thanks very much.

WINBERG: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: And we reached out to Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and the two public pools to find out how the new policy is working. We heard back from the Murphy Recreation Center. They confirm they are no longer implementing gender-segregated swim days. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.