Nearly a century ago, Rehoboth officials took a prudish view of ladies’ swimwear. Here’s a revealing look at how times change.

By Lynn R. Parks | Photograph by Carolyn Watson
From the June 2018 issue


In July 1931, in the second year of the Great Depression and 18 months before Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, The Evening Journal newspaper in Wilmington ran two dozen stories on its front page.

Paul von Hindenburg was threatening to quit as president of Germany, according to the banner headline. U.S. President Herbert Hoover had condemned wheat speculators, who were driving down the cost of the grain crop; trading on Wall Street was “dull”; there were new traffic signals along the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal; and an elderly Smyrna woman had chased off two early-morning intruders when she screamed and “sprang out of bed.

And in the southern part of the state, the Rehoboth town commissioners had passed a new ordinance, imposing a $30 fine on any beachgoer wearing an “incomplete bathing suit.”

The statute, which appears in its entirety in the article, does not define what “incomplete” means, a lack of specificity that the unidentified reporter predicted would lead to difficulties.

“What one person may regard as an ‘incomplete’ bathing suit may be regarded by another as ‘fittingly proper,’ even though it may not be properly fitting,” the journalist wrote. “Summer residents of the resort and many Delawareans who visit there over the weekends are wondering who is going to assume the Solomonic task of determining what is a ‘complete’ and what is an ‘incomplete’ bathing suit.”



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