Monday, January 22, 2018

The Ladies Who Built a Municipal Bath House for Punta Gorda

At a time in the Country when women were denied a political voice and an opportunity to explore topics beyond children and household chores, woman’s clubs were  formed for civic, enrichment, social and charitable purposes and became an important part of the fabric of cities and towns throughout the nation. These clubs, most of which had started out as social and literary gatherings, eventually became a source of reform for various issues in the U.S

 Punta Gorda in the late 19th and early 20th century was a new frontier whose business and civic life was dominated by men. The women of the young town used clubs to participate in an active social and intellectual life, but also formed other organizations to make an impact on the growing community. One of these groups explicity formed to address civic issues  was the Ladies Civic Improvement Association (a forerunner of the Woman's Club still active today).. Not only did these women push for changes in the community, often successfully (getting the city to stop cattle from roaming the streets, for example), they published a booklet to promote Punta Gorda in pictures and words, and raised money for community projects. One such project was the Municipal Bath House.

The Municipal Bath House was built off the City Dock of the day which extended into the harbor from Sullivan Street. The Bath House, officially opened in April of 1916, came about as a result of the Ladies’ Civic Improvement Association’s fundraising efforts. The ladies raised two thousand dollars, organized volunteer labor and acquired donated material to erect the swimming platform with a pavilion and dressing rooms. They held suppers, participated in the annual Punta Gorda Pfun Festival with booths, and organized even more bizarre fundraising projects. According to Vernon Peeples one event was a great snake fight between rattlers and black snakes.

The Ladies also ran the facility and developed and posted rules for the patrons of the house. They charged 25 cents for admission which included a suit, towel and room, for 10 cents you could use a room and a towel – no suit provided.  Water, ball and mud throwing wasn’t allowed, but ducking and rough play was allowed outside the ropes. Swearing and obscene language was prohibited, and dancing wasn’t allowed unless previous arrangements had been made. (See the complete list below).

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