By Mark Storey
Originally printed in N Issue 19.3, Spring of 2000
What is The Naturist Society? How, why, and where did it begin? What does it hope to accomplish? And why is it headquartered, of all places, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin?
This outline history of TNS hopes to answer the above and other commonly posed questions. In its more than 20 years, the full story of The Naturist Society has not been written down. This account is intended for those Naturists and nudists who wish to know something more about their ideological roots; for those in media who need to follow up on a story about skinny-dipping at a local beach; for students of American history looking for a summary of one strand of advocacy for rational acceptance of social nudity; and even for those who are not at all happy that so many people delight in total body freedom.
Defining Those Labels: Naturism & Nudism
Perhaps for those new to social nudity, we can begin with a brief understanding of the terms “naturism” and “nudism.” Both refer to the belief that non-lewd, family-friendly social nudity is a good thing. The sense of “good” will differ; depending on which individuals you talk to. Some will talk about the benefits to physical health. Others will praise the feelings of freedom and relaxation that come from being nude out of doors. Another group will say that they receive a spiritual benefit from being naked in the midst of nature. Some claim psychological benefits derive from full acceptance of the body. The people who founded and presently make up The Naturist Society (TNS) have chosen to describe themselves as “naturists” instead of “nudists” for a variety of reasons. Europeans who practice social nudity have historically have referred to this set of beliefs and practices as “naturism,” and the word connotes a connectedness with nature TNS seeks to foster.
In America, from early in the century until the formation of TNS, groups of people who banded together in one form or another to recreate nude generally called themselves “nudists.” Often, said nudists would be members of a formal nudist organization that functioned rather like a rustic country club. Many of these clubs still exist today; others have been developed into upscale and nearly posh resorts. Naturists, to the degree they think about it at all, like to distinguish themselves from nudists by stressing the value and joy of social nudity in as many aspects of their lives as possible. They do not limit their nudity to securely walled club grounds on the weekends, or to deep inside their own homes. In 1997 TNS defined naturism in this way: “A way of living in greater fidelity to nature, with a norm of full nudity in social life, the genitals included, when possible and appropriate. We aim to enhance acceptance and respect for one’s self, other persons, and the biosphere.” In line with TNS’ definition is that of the International Naturist Federation: “Naturism is a way of life in harmony with nature characterized by the practice of communal nudity, with the intention of encouraging self-respect, respect for others, and for the environment.” Without claiming to settle the issue of how best to use the terms “naturism” and “nudism” for the purposes of this history “nudism” will refer to the practice of being nude in a pleasant, non-erotic mixed-gender setting. “Naturism” will refer to the practice of nudism while also entailing a respect and acceptance for the integrity of one’s whole person, other persons, and the environment.
TNS Pre-History: Lee Baxandall
A history of TNS could not be set forth without discussion of its founder, Lee Baxandall. Born in 1935 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Baxandall’s first skinny-dipping experiences were as a young Boy Scout camping in Twin Lakes Reservation in Wisconsin. After receiving his master’s degree in Comparative Literature from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Baxandall moved to New York, where he became active writing, translating, and critiquing plays. He also applied his writing skills to producing books on the arts, psychology, and politics. His political activism at this time prepared him for his interest in naturism to come.
His first experience with naturism after his time spent as a Boy Scout was in 1968, when he and his wife at that time discovered Truro Beach on Cape Cod. “To our surprise,” Baxandall says, “we found people doing what I had done at scout camp. We found that they were the nicest people we’d met on the Cape. We brought our child along, and other people brought their children. It was a family thing. It was no obsessive thing–it was just the pleasant way of being on the beach.” Although Baxandall lived in New York, he usually spent one week a month traveling back to his hometown of Oshkosh, to help run his deceased father’s business, the Baxandall Company. This business produced flyers, pamphlets, videos, and other educational materials to trade schools and businesses. It was in part a publishing firm. Baxandall made his living, then, running his father’s business and, to a lesser degree, from his writing in New York. He has supported himself ever since through this non-naturist business. His future work in naturism was primarily a labor of love. One of his Wisconsin-based projects was publishing and editing the Green Mountain Quarterly . It’s purpose, as its masthead declared, was “to present outstanding analyses on issues of social urgency.” Topics addressed pertained to the environment, social justice, and politics. The fourth edition–the famous “Skinny Dipper Issue,” August 1976–gave free beach advocates a clear, professional-sounding voice in articulating the issues with which Baxandall would be embroiled the rest of his life.
The “Free the Free Beach” Committee is Formed in 1975
In the summer of 1974, Lawrence Hadley, superintendent of the Cape Cod National Seashore, had proposed a ban on nudity to include the traditionally clothing-optional Truro beaches on the Atlantic side of Cape Cod. Hadley argued that the nude use was attracting too large a crowd for the site. Baxandall and some other free beach enthusiasts developed a support group–the Free the Free Beach Committee–to protest the ban. Since he was the only member of the group who was self-employed, and thus had job security, the task fell to him to be the public spokesperson for the group. With his ties in publishing in Oshkosh, he was also the obvious choice to direct any activist writing projects that came up. On August 23, 1975 the Free the Free Beach Committee organized a nude beach “celebration” (the National Park Service would not allow a “demonstration”) that drew thousands of law-abiding free beach supporters. The police cited no one for nudity, and the event was deemed a success. It drew attention to the strong public support for maintaining Truro’s unofficial clothing-optional status. Meanwhile, on the West Coast, Eugene Callen, founder of the free beach support group Beachfront U.S.A., took notice of the success of the Truro beach celebration, and called Baxandall to congratulate him on a job well done. The two men decided to meet to discuss combining the efforts of East and West coast nude beach activists.
Beachfront USA Group Becomes a Partner In Free Beaches Activism
In May 1976, Baxandall met with Beachfront USA in Los Angeles to discuss ways of combining their efforts and to further advance the free beach movement. They agreed to designate August 7, 1976 as National Nude Beach Day. The West Coast group developed its own preparations to attract media attention on that day. The weather had turned cold and stormy at the Head Of The Meadow Beach on Cape Cod, where the Free the Free Beach Committee had planned its second “celebration.” But an alternate “rain day” had been pre-announced, and the Cape Cod event took place on a cloudy but warm August 14. The success of these Cape Cod “celebrations” was confirmed by the fact that for nearly a decade afterwards the Department of the Interior and its National Park Service said nothing more about banning nudity on federal land.
National Nude Weekend & Nude Recreation Week™
Eugene Callen (who died in 1978) and Lee Baxandall agreed that a continuation of these beach events should take place nationwide. Both realized that to make steady inroads on the American public’s view of beach nudity, public relations and the media must be used to good effect. To that end, the two men developed the idea for a National Nude Weekend to be held each year in July by all interested groups. Initially word about National Nude Weekend was spread through independent youth publications. In the 1970s these periodicals were common, and if they received a press release telling about a large, public nude event, they were sure to print it. By the 1980s, such publications were less common, and news of the Weekend had to be issued through mainstream news agencies like the AP and UPI. This still worked, but now the news was transmitted by the press as titillating reading for a more conservative readership. By the time The Naturist Society was established in 1980 it was the de facto organizer and primary promoter of this annual event. In 1992 TNS oversaw the expansion of the Weekend into a seven day Nude Recreation Week. Other major naturist and nudist organizations in the 1990s have benefited by taking part in this public calendar acceptance of social nudity. Each July, TNS and other naturist organizations receive hundreds of phone calls from inquisitive media representatives trying to figure out what is going on. It gives TNS the chance to explain the principles of naturism, and to alert members of the general public to the clothing-optional opportunities in their regions.
The Free Beaches Documentation Center
In addition to establishing National Nude Weekend, Baxandall and Callen agreed that a center to store the primary materials of the clothing-optional movement was needed. Baxandall volunteered to use his Oshkosh facilities to house these documents and to have Oshkosh be the physical location for a new Free Beaches Documentation Center. Initially, the FBDC concentrated on collecting info pertaining to nude swimming areas (i.e., free beaches), but soon expanded to concern itself with all elements of clothing-free use of public lands. It intended to preserve documents such as posters, flyers, manifestos, news items, photographs, legal documents and publicity paraphernalia for use by students and writers with serious interest. The FBDC quickly expanded its original goals to include publishing and distributing a newspaper. In June 1976 the first issue of Free Beaches was distributed. Copies were available for the price of a donation to the FBDC. Subsequent issues, produced once a year through 1980 and undergoing name changes, were titled Free Beaches Sunand finally Sun. The tabloid provided updates on where readers could recreate nude, and it kept them abreast of challenges to their naturist freedoms. Sun included short articles describing the pleasure of social nudity, offered informal surveys about social attitudes about the body, and alerted readers to special events that naturists would likely be interested in.
In October 1979, the FBDC organized a workshop for the annual convention of the National Recreation and Parks Association held in New Orleans. This was the first time a naturist or nudist group had participated in this national event. The workshop was attended by about 150 alert middle and top-level park managers. Baxandall and Jan Smith opened with a 23-minute, professionally produced slide and audio show titled “Nude Recreation In America.” After the slide show Baxandall successfully debated Lawrence Hadley (now retired from Cape Cod) and two other part director panelists on the merits of nude use of Truro beach. In March 1981, Baxandall, Durand Steiger, and Jake Satin Jacobs offered a similar workshop at the regional California and Pacific Northwest Recreation and Park Conference held in San Diego, California. John Fitz-Gerald gave yet a third workshop on October 5, 1983 at the National Recreation and Park Association’s annual convention. After 1985, the American Sunbathing Association (now the American Association for Nude Recreation) would sanction an interest in nude recreation on public lands and has participated in similar conventions throughout the 1990s.
1980-1981: A “Naturist Society” is Formed, Naturist Gatherings Are Organized, and the First Edition of the World Guide To Nude Beaches & Recreation Is Sold
By the end of the 1970s, Lee Baxandall and other free beach leaders on both the East and the West coasts saw the need for a broader-ranging, centralized naturist organization. The American Sunbathing Association was serving the needs of nudist clubs that owned property, but did virtually nothing for nude use on public lands. Defenders and promoters of clothing-optional beaches, hot springs, or just naturism in general were isolated at best, and in many regions non-existent. Baxandall called for an organizing conference to be held in San Francisco in May 1980. Most beach leaders, coming from both sides of the nation, met to agree on how to proceed effectively and efficiently to promote and defend clothes-free use of beaches. Attendees agreed at that meeting that the unifying organization’s business office should be called The Naturists, Inc. and that the organizational membership should be called The Naturist Society. Art Andreatte from Santa Barbara is credited with suggesting the European terms “naturists” and “naturism” to describe the group and its philosophy. “The Naturists” and “The Naturist Society” were often used interchangeably in the early years. The former word would also denote, from 1982, the business that produced the magazines, books, and other paraphernalia of outreach. In that year, at the suggestion of TNS’ attorney, The Naturists, Inc was officially incorporated. Most people today use “The Naturist Society” to refer to all aspects of the organization.
The year 1980 was pivotal for naturism in America. TNS was proposed and established, as a unifying organization to promote and defend nude recreation on appropriate public and private lands; membership in TNS was first solicited (in July and August); TNS held its first “Gathering” of nudist leaders and TNS members; and Baxandall completed the first edition of the World Guide To Nude Beaches and Recreation. Bonnie Ziegenhagen (now Bonnie Case) recalls the hectic early days of FBDC and then TNS. She was the first employee of the FBDC, hired in June 1976, shortly after the first edition of the Free Beaches Sun was published and distributed. Working four days a week for FBDC, and part-time in the mail room of the Baxandall Company next door, Ziegenhagen did the typing, labeling, and distribution of the FBDC merchandise (T-shirts, books, bumper stickers, buttons, copies of the Sun), editions of the Green Mountain Quarterly, postcards and art prints, and general office administration. In the beginning months of its existence, TNS used what was to be the last issue of FBDC’s Sun and the West Coast nudist club and free beach monthly newspaper Bare In Mind to announce the opportunity for membership in the new organization. By the time TNS issued its first set of membership cards in September 1980 it had 879 paying members, as well as dozens of contributors. Jan Smith designed the TNS membership number system, and she has the first number, Baxandall the second, and Case the third. Smith was also instrumental in compiling the site information for the first edition of the World Guide to Nude Beaches and Recreation (in the 1995 edition TNS changed “Recreation” to “Resorts”). With all of the information coming in to the FBDC and now to TNS Baxandall and Smith were able to update their extensive lists and descriptions of the world’s clothing-optional areas. They wanted the World Guide to be accurate, complete, and up-to-date. They also wanted the book’s physical presentation to include to include beautiful photography, and a sturdy binding. Its coverage of North American clothes-free opportunities is unmatched by any other printed guide. It covers more clothing-optional clubs, resorts, beaches and hot springs than any other American publication.
One of the central features of TNS from its first year in existence was its member-driven regional meetings, known as “Gatherings.” TNS’ first Gathering was held on October 24-26, 1980 at Elysium in Topanga Canyon, California. TNS accepted club owner Ed Lange’s gracious invitation to use his club grounds to host this convention of free beach, hot spring, and naturist club leaders, as well as any TNS member who cared to join the discussions. Lange, who played a prominent role in raising the level of competitive volleyball among naturists, was a renowned photographer and publisher of naturist photography and had developed Elysium into a facility highly regarded for its alternative approaches to body acceptance and clothes-free living. The October 1980 Naturist Gathering ushered in a fresher and more dynamic form of naturist activism. Foregoing any strict order of parliamentary procedure, the dozens of attendees, compromising a virtual “Who’s Who” list of cutting edge nude activists, threw themselves into the task of setting the tone for TNS and naturism for years to come. Representatives from free beaches and landed clubs all over the country expressed their hopes and apprehensions regarding the advancement and defense of naturism. Jim Hadley and Hap Hathaway (leaders from the Western Sunbathing Association and the ASA) conferred with TNS to lay out strategies for working together for common purposes. Members offered analysis of specific legislative problems found at the state and county levels. Irene Shannon addressed the isolationist philosophy of landed clubs and the irrational fear many nudist club leaders had of being inundated by unknown miscreants from free beaches. Baxandall, Bob Page, Jim Williams, and others made suggestions on how best to respond to anti-nudity legislative pressure. Perhaps most telling was the attendees’ desire to define themselves as distinct from the club nudists of the past. Naturists, as Ron McDonald for one would emphasize at the meeting, do not limit their social nudity to their homes or the perceived security of club walls. True naturists embrace body freedom throughout their lives and do so openly and without shame. There may be constraints laid upon them by society, but whenever possible) and not just at a club on a weekend) they enjoy the body freedom nature intended. Attendees of that first Gathering may recall discussions about the contemporary culture of nudist clubs. For example, one topic was nude beauty pageants, which were popular at many nudist clubs at that time. Such events were thought by many naturists to objectify women as sexual objects for the delight of males, fixating too heavily on the sexual connotations of nudity. This grated against the TNS members’ sense of gender equality. It would be better, the group thought, to develop ways to express and take joy in human beauty without demeaning and objectifying women.
Another innovation announced at the first Gathering was the formulation of Naturist Special Interest Groups, or SIGs. Baxandall got the idea of SIGs from the Mensa group. The idea was to provide a common meeting point on topics and activities of interest to TNS members. Each SIG would encourage active participation in social interaction and communication. The result would be a more dynamic and socially cohesive group of people who had a love for social nudity and body acceptance as common denominators. SIGs did not have to relate directly to nudity. Early SIGs addressed topics as varied as fitness, photography, parenting, sex equality, gay awareness, and spirituality. Presently TNS SIGs include groups interested in aviation, poetry, opera, massage, scuba, and Christianity. Some are quite active and participate at Gatherings; others simply have a newsletter to let others with similar interests know what their peers are doing. Today Network Coordinator Debbie Jungwirth assists TNS members in the easy process of developing and maintaining a SIG.
In 1981, TNS held its first Eastern Naturist Gathering at Pine Tree Association in Maryland, one of the East Coast’s oldest and best-established nudist clubs. Every year since then, TNS has had at least one Gathering on both the East and the West coasts. In the 1990s, the calendar was expanded to include Gatherings in almost every region of the U.S., from Florida to Washington to Texas to Michigan to Massachusetts. In addition to the four or five official gatherings organized directly by the TNS staff, regional naturist groups have taken on the organization of similarly formatted naturist Festivals. For example, Morley Schloss of Sunsport Gardens plans an annual Northeast Naturist Festival, and Mark Storey of the SLUGS in Seattle has run Northwest Naturist Festivals at Lake Associates Recreation Club in Washington and Sun Meadow in Idaho. The gatherings and festivals bring together naturists from around the country for educational seminars, legislative updates, sports and games, and the chance to meet, support and learn from one another. Some events have as few as 100 attendees; others have attracted nearly 800. Each is successful due to the volunteer efforts of TNS members. It is the membership who decides what kind of events to have, and it is the members who host the majority of the seminars, workshops, displays, performances and demonstrations. It’s at the gatherings and festivals that the grassroots volunteer spirit of TNS members is most clearly manifested. It is to TNS’ satisfaction that the other naturist and nudist organizations have recently imitated the style and format of these events.
A New Era For TNS Publications: Clothed With The Sun
After Baxandall and others at the 1980 San Francisco conference established The Naturist Society, Baxandall and Jan Smith decided that it was time to move the Sun tabloid to the next level of production. Using the Green Mountain Quarterly’s format as a guide, Baxandall and Smith spent that latter part of 1980 and the beginning of 1981 producing the first issue of Clothed With The Sun. In the premier issue of CWS Baxandall described the quarterly magazine’s purpose. He took the journal’s name from the utopian Home Colony of Tacoma, Washington. Home existed as an alternative living arrangement (local opponents labeled them “anarchists”) from 1896 to 1914. They advocated liberal views on marriage and the benefits of mixed-sex bathing and skinny-dipping. Their journal was called Clothed With The Sun, and seemed to Baxandall to speak to the issues of body acceptance and social nudity important to naturists. Of additional interest to Baxandall was the subtle reminder inherent to the title that grassroots, communal, and publicly articulated naturism was alive and well in America long before the German influence in the 1920s and 1930s which led to the corporate nudism of the American Sunbathing Association. Some readers of the Sun tabloids had complained about the low newspaper quality of that publication’s materials, so Baxandall chose a more resilient and archival quality for CWS. Also, TNS wanted to present the growing trend of clothing-optional beach use to recreation managers and law enforcement officials as being led by people who were organized, well informed, and able to articulate a coherent mission. A professional journal, it was thought, would aid this effort.
The first issue of CWS focused heavily on updates about existing clothing-optional sites. Many were, in effect, supplements to the World Guide. One issue might address sites in North America; the next might focus on Europe; this might be followed by one on the Caribbean; and another might publish articles on an array of topics relevant to naturism. Issue 1.2 for instance, covered topics as diverse as nude runners in San Francisco; sunbathing on urban rooftops; a nude demonstration in Wisconsin; the clothing-optional city of Cap d’Agde in France; a New York naturist’s success in converting his basement into a nude swimming pool; gardening naked; the living “sculpture” of Alice Beberman; and movie and book reviews. The first few years were relatively calm for TNS. The office staff found production and distribution of the magazine much easier than that of the newspaper format of the Sun. Unlike Sun, which was sent out to everyone who made a contribution to FBDC, CWS was mailed to the TNS membership. Surprisingly few problems arose from nudist organizations that might have perceived CWS as competition to their publications. TNS and the American Sunbathing Association had mutually beneficial agreements in advertising each other’s publications. Lee Baxandall wrote most of the material for the journal, but had the ready assistance of Smith in writing articles for the first four issues of CWS. Later, Nikki Craft would assist him in Oshkosh in a similar fashion. Later still, managing editor Pat O’Brien wrote many of the magazine’s features. A large portion of the articles and reviews were provided however, by the TNS membership. Although at present TNS has a handful of “editorial assistants” who are willing to provide regular features for TNS’ journal, the vast majority of the magazine’s photos and articles are contributed by TNS members from around the world.
Naturism Acceptance: The 1983 Gallup Poll
From 1980 through 1983, TNS was able to direct most of its energy to updating its World Guide, to establishing CWS as the journal of record for naturism in America, and to developing its schedule of gatherings. As TNS established itself in the non-naturist community as an informed and articulate voice for free beach use across the country, Baxandall found that he had increased access to the media. Often he could write articles for mainstream newspapers or magazines about a particular clothing-optional beach and they would print them. If the media wanted information on a particular skinny-dipping issue, they began to call Oshkosh for a naturist slant on it. In 1983 TNS commissioned the respected Gallup Organization to survey Americans on three questions pertaining to nude recreation. The Gallup Organization polled a representative sample of 1,037 men and women over the age of 18. Interviews were conducted by telephone between May 13 and May 30, 1983. The three questions asked were:
(1) Do you believe that people who enjoy nude sunbathing should be able to do so without interference from officials as long as they do so at a beach that is accepted for that purpose? (71.6 % said yes)
(2) Local and state governments now set aside public land for special types of recreation such as snowmobiling, surfing, and hunting. Do you think special and secluded areas should be set aside by the government for people to enjoy nude sunbathing? (39.1% said yes)
(3) Have you personally ever gone skinny-dipping or nude sunbathing in a mixed group of men or women either at a beach, at a pool, or somewhere else? (14.7% said yes).
(From the Gallup Organization, Inc., “Attitudes Toward Nude Sunbathing: A Custom Survey Conducted For The Naturists” June 1983.) It was particularly gratifying to TNS to have reliable evidence documenting that nearly three fourths of Americans favored allowing naturists to use beaches clothes-free as long as the beach was known and accepted for that purpose. Clearly, there was little call for a rising number of legislative attacks on traditional nudity at free beaches. With the growth of social conservatism fostered in the 1980s, however, TNS found itself confronting an unexpected anti-nudity bias in the media, in politics, and in the population at large.
Changing Social Attitudes Bring New Challenges To Body and Nudity Acceptance
By the mid-1980s the young activists and hippies attuned to the benefits of body acceptance in the late 1960s and early 1970s began to feel their age. Quite a few appreciated that the Reagan years were kind to their pocketbooks. Many naturists began to enjoy the more sedentary life found at nudist clubs. With increasing incomes, they were accepted by nudist club owners who might earlier have viewed them as free-beach riffraff. Meanwhile, many of the youth in the 1980s, who might have been expected to take up the naturist lifestyle and interests bought into the mass-marketing ploys of Madison Avenue–internalizing the advertising message that to be acceptable in a techno-hip society, they must dress the part? Any body covering that could be sold for obscene profit (and preferably with the company logo on it for additional free advertising) was foisted on to this new generation. As more people sought the solace of the natural environment, secluded beaches and hot springs, once free of the intrusion from authorities, became crowded with people who either did not know that the site had been used nude for decades, or who were antagonistic to its continuing to be used that way. Complaints to the police produced citations and arrests in numbers seldom seen before. The TNS office in Oshkosh received a rising number of calls for information about existing sites whose clothing-optional status was under attack. Advice was sought by naturists who had been cited, often without warning, merely for being nude at a beach. TNS recognized that it must develop a means of meeting these challenges while continuing the mission of promoting naturism through the journal, gatherings, and the network of beach support groups, Naturist clubs, and SIGs.
Responding To The Anti-Nudity Threat: The First Naturist Leadership Council
At the 1985 Eastern Gathering TNS was determined to find out what naturists were most concerned with as they saw many of their cherished clothing-optional sites under attack. The concern most often voiced was the perceived lack of communication among naturist and nudist leaders. To meet this need, TNS invited representatives from all naturist and nudist groups to meet at Blackstock, a “neutral” non-naturist site in South Carolina. On September 21-23, 1985, representatives from eight naturist groups, primarily from the East Coast, met and formed the Naturist Leadership Council. 8 The purpose was to help develop grassroots leaders in clubs and beach support groups. NLC hoped to provide a clearinghouse for information useful to participating naturist individuals and groups who needed assistance in battling anti-nudity policies and legislation. The goal was to being as many naturist groups into NLC as possible and to keep the organization’s grassroots spirit. NLC also was to bring together different groups who shared similar problems, so that they could combine efforts to their mutual benefit. For example, John Kyff of the National Capital Naturists in Washington, D.C. began a file of all legal documents available to him pertaining to social nudity. This information would then be made available to lawyers representing naturists’ interests. The first chair of NLC was John Fitz-Gerald of the National Capital Naturists. Other early leaders included Beth Glatt, Michelle Handler, and John Mills.
By April 1988 however, TNS acknowledged in CWS that NLC had not lived up to its potential. Kyff had been able to amass a sizeable collection of legal documents, but aside from meeting at a few TNS gatherings, NLC had not attracted the attention of other clubs or naturist groups. Meanwhile, NLC leader Michelle Handler had decided that one goal of the naturist movement should be to actively oppose the pornography industry. She also was unsatisfied with what appeared to her to be an emphasis on attractive women in the pages of CWS. She became disruptive to NLC and the group found itself spending what little time it had together trying to respond to her personal agenda.
NLC Becomes NNLC
In June 1988, at the Eastern Gathering at Camp Akiba in Pennsylvania, leaders from TNS and ASA met to form the Naturist/Nudist Leadership Council. Loosely based on the defunct NLC, NNLC planned to focus on legal challenges and lobbying efforts. Membership would be open to individuals rather than to organizations. A steering committee was formed to make sure NNLC did not fall prey to the same internal inefficiencies as NLC had. The committee members responsible for the startup of NNLC were: Lee Beverage, Cec Cinder, Ron Burich (the first chair), George McCormick, Mary Lou Schloss, Durand Steiger, and Turner Stokes. To NNLC’s advantage, it had the backing of both TNS and ASA. Never before had these two organizations worked this closely together on a project of this magnitude and importance. Probably the most important achievement of NNLC was its sponsorship of the February 25, 1989 Legal Conference on Nude Recreation held at the Dulles Airport Holiday Inn in northern Virginia. Suggested initially by Robert Ellis Smith of Rhode Island, the conference allowed NNLC and lawyers involved in nudity cases the opportunity to share advice and to plan cooperative strategies for defending naturist freedoms across North America. NNLC struggled however, to turn itself into a cohesive and effective political force. Its leadership structure never quite solidified and funding was always a problem. Without sufficient funds, NNLC was unable to fulfill its goals of mounting court challenges to anti-nudity policies or of acquiring lobbyists when needed.
The Association For Clothes Free Rights was formed at the Eastern Gathering in June 1989, again with the goal of meeting legal challenges. Replacing the NNLC, ACFRI was deemed “all-inclusive.” It was to look after the interests not only of naturists and nudists, but also of any other group who was sympathetic to clothes-free lifestyles. ACFRI hoped to identify specific, winnable legal cases that would have a positive effect on clothes-free living. It also planned to become more effective in public relations and in controlling how the media and thus the general population would perceive clothes-free rights. In many people’s minds however, the most useful function of ACFRI was that, for a while, it bridged the gap between TNS and the ASA. In the late 1980s the ASA remained firmly aligned with the specific interests of its affiliated nudist clubs. It understood its role to be an umbrella organization that would protect and foster the business interests of ASA clubs (and not necessarily the many non-ASA clubs, and certainly not the free beaches). TNS had emerged as the only effective voice for clothing-optional use of public lands. Although ASA at the time claimed it could take care of everyone’s needs who wished to enjoy social nudity, that goal was obviously not within the organization’s ability or desire. TNS on the other hand, did wish to make naturism inclusive but was not in a position to offer that kind of legal assistance or business advice to the landed clubs that ASA was experienced in providing. ACFRI, therefore, was supposed to be link for the two organizations, with complete allegiance to neither.
ACFRI was to be a membership-based and membership-controlled group. It expected to receive its funding from major contributors and individual memberships. Its initial nine member board was chosen from experienced naturist leaders across the US and Canada. They included Lee Baxandall, Toni Egbert, Lee Beverage, Larry Landrum, George McCormick, David Southall, Turner Stokes, Judy Williams and Walt Zadanoff. So far in the development of unified, or at least unifying, naturist/nudist coordination, TNS and Lee Baxandall had been playing dual roles. On the one hand Baxandall used TNS to press for an effective force to meet anti-nudity challenges, and he clearly wanted to have a guiding hand in each of their manifestations. At the same time he hoped to see a capable group of grassroots-oriented naturists emerge and take the reins themselves. TNS continuingly provided a comfortable location in its gatherings for formative meetings, and CWS was always available to report on the groups’ efforts and successes.
NLC, NNLC, and ACFRI each were independent of TNS, yet clearly had their roots in and primary support from the Oshkosh-based group. Meanwhile, those members of ACFRI who were primarily associated with ASA were trying to steer the group in an ASA direction, and thus kept ACFRI from fulfilling its mission as acting as an autonomous bridge between TNS and ASA. Some TNS members, like Durand Steiger, began to ask why TNS did not just develop a political task force of its own. Throughout the 1980s, Steiger argued, TNS had proved itself to be a successful naturist organization. Only TNS and ASA were by then, considered “major players” in the American clothing-optional movement. TNS had a respectable vehicle in CWS that could be used to get the task force’s message out to a wide group of people. And with TNS in control–up front as well as behind the scenes–its political action group would avoid the pitfalls of internal disagreement brought about by having leaders from two occasionally disparate groups.
The Naturist Action Committee & Naturist Education Foundation
At the June 14-17, 1990 TNS Eastern Gathering, once again in Pennsylvania, TNS finally decided to press its members into forming a dynamic, effective political action group of their own. By 1990 TNS had enough members, enough respect among the naturist and non-naturist communities, enough useful ties with other naturist organizations, enough experienced and battle-seasoned leaders, and a journal of sufficient and consistent quality to take on the task of forming–finally–a model naturist action group. Responding in part to Steiger’s remarks, TNS took the summer to decide how best to organize this new group. In a second Eastern gathering that year, held at Camp Akiba in Pennsylvania on August 16-19, 1990, TNS officially formed the Naturist Action Committee. A Board of Directors pro term was selected with Toni Egbert as Chair. NAC was to be known as the political arm of TNS, but retain enough autonomy to move in the directions the elected committee wished. Lee Baxandall would serve in a largely advisory capacity as a permanent but non-voting member. The board was set up to be democratically elected by and from the TNS membership, with each TNS members getting one equal vote, Any qualified TNS member may run for one of the nine board positions, and stand for re-election after three years. TNS’ magazine was designated the official organ of NAC. (In 1992 TNS, NAC and the Naturist Education Foundation would create a separate, monthly newsletter for timely political and legal updates.) NAC’s stated goals were threefold: legal action, lobbying, and public relations. On August 20, 1991, the first elected committee convened at Empire Haven, New York. Those elected by the TNS membership were: Lee Beverage, John Boteler, Toni Egbert, John Kyff, Johanna Moore, Mollie Moore-Sullivan, Morley Schloss Durand Steiger, and Brian Wright. Lee Baxandall was a member ex officio and Kevin Kearney was hired as NAC’s lobbyist and Public Affairs Council
NAC has succeeded where the earlier activist groups failed. Today, NAC is the most effective naturist or nudist activist in North America. Although the names among the board members have changed (only Morley Schloss remains from the original board), the unity found in TNS’ distinctly naturist philosophy, and the dedication to defending and promoting clothing-optional freedoms on public and private lands, keeps the board of directors and the many TNS members with whom they work on track. In February 1993, after three years of planning and submitting applications to the Internal Revenue Service, TNS announced the official formation of NAC’s sister organization, the Naturist Education Foundation. With designated 501©3 status from the IRS, NEF is a charitable institution. Naturists can make contributions to NEF to support its mission and use the donations as a tax write-off. NEF’s goal is to educate politicians, business owners, and the general public about naturism. Over the years NEF has produced informative videos and booklets, and has helped sponsor the Legal Symposium (October 9-11, 1998, organized by South Florida Free Beaches and NEF board member Shirley Mason) as well as smaller events like the NEF Naturism/Christianity Conference (April 17-18, 1998) and the NEF Writers Workshop (January 15-17, 1999.)
Expanding Grassroots Activism: NACAR & NEFAR Programs
By the mid-1990s NAC had become an efficient political action group whose professionalism and effectiveness had engendered respect from naturist and non-naturists groups alike. Soon however, the board had to acknowledge its need for some assistance. Having become quite adept at finding anti-nudity legislation even before it became known to the general public, and learning techniques to defeat it in legislative committees, NAC wanted to expand on its own success. In 1995 NAC established the Naturist Action Committee Area Representative program. NAC Area Reps, or NACARs, are TNS members who are willing and able to oversee a specified geographical region as an assistant to the NAC board member covering that area. For instance, someone from a beach support group in California might become a NACAR to track action at that specific beach for the NAC board member covering California. THE NACAR would also be in a position locally to watch out for any city, county, or state anti-nudity legislation. If bills, ordinances, or changes in law enforcement arise, the NACAR would be in a good position to garner support from local naturists to help NAC defend the area’s naturist freedoms. In 1996 NEF established an analogous program of Naturist Education Foundation Area Representatives (i.e. NEFARs) who wish to assist NEF in promoting naturism, but who are not particularly interested in doing the political or legislative work on which NAC tends to focus much of its energy. After going through the learning process of creating and dissolving the NLC, NNLC, and ACFRI, The Naturist Society seems to have hit upon a recipe for success with NAC. In 1998, the premier activist group for naturism boasted a 96 percent success rate in challenging anti-nudity legislation. There is today a reliable core of committee members, NACARS, professional volunteers, and financial contributors. In 1994 NAC retained Washington lobbyist Scootch Pankonin to assist the board on federal and state nudity policy and legislation issues. In 1998, Bob Morton of Central Texas Nudists was hired as Executive Director. To make itself even more effective in getting information out to naturists and to direct letters, phone calls, faxes, and e-mails to key legislators considering important bills pertaining to nudity, NAC has established an online NAC Alert System delivered by naturist list servers like the Clothing Optional Digest. Coupled with the monthly NAC/NEF Newsletter and timely letters to specific regions, the NAC Alerts have proven invaluable in marshaling immediate grassroots naturist support when the need arises. If it is true that success is imitated, then NAC has much to boast of. In the last few years the American Association for Nude Recreation has watched NAC develop and prove its effectiveness with a relatively modest budget. In the late 1990s, AANR has responded both to its club members’ request to direct attention to nude use of public lands and to its trustees’ incredulity that NAC, with a small fraction of AANR’s legal defense fund, could get so much more accomplished.
As TNS has NAC, now AANR has GAT (Government Affairs Team). Seeing NAC’s success in working with Scootch Pankonin, GAT hired a lobbyist of its own. Observing the benefits of NAC’s NACAR program, GAT has recently formed a similar GAT Member Program. After NAC decided not to give half control of its NAC Alerts over to AANR, GAT developed its own online L.A.W. (Legislative Awareness Watch) Alerts. At this point GAT has all but duplicated NAC in its organization and style. GAT is attempting to make use of its grassroots resources (vast as they are), but the authority still tends to remain rather top-heavy. NAC’s “authority” to the degree it has any, remains firmly rooted in the TNS membership. The NAC board takes as its responsibility to assist individuals, clubs, and other naturist groups as they submit ideas for defending or advancing naturist freedoms. In a new millennium, when business and corporate paradigms are taken as axiomatic, a volunteer grassroots organization may seem anachronistic. But so far it has worked surprisingly well.
Clothed With The Sun Becomes N: Nude & Natural
In the spring of 1989 (to back up a bit), TNS sent its members their first copy of Nude & Natural magazine. TNS chose a new title for its official journal for a number of reasons. First, some people new to the magazine had trouble understanding the name; they were hearing “Closed With The Sun” when “Clothed With The Sun” was spoken. Even after the title was clarified, most people still did not catch the historical reference to the Home Colony. Second, although TNS recognized that altering names and logos is always a risky move, it decided that a change would offer the opportunity to reinforce the biological value of social nudity by linking the words “nude” and “natural.” The words are neutral regarding issues peripheral to naturism, and focus attention on two of the core values of naturists: social nudity and a sympathetic relationship to the natural environment. The new name correctly downplayed any misperception that naturism was merely a sun-oriented activity. After all, people can enjoy naturism indoors, in the shade, or at night; and with the mid-1980s panic over skin cancer, TNS was justifiably shy of evoking a sun-related metaphor. (Note the similar and later change from the “American Sunbathing Association” to the “American Association for Nude Recreation.”) In addition to a name change, TNS adopted a new logo. TNS member Carl Hild suggested early on that a simple, cryptic logo was needed, one that would allow fellow naturists to recognize one another without the need to blatantly advertise one’s preference for nudity. Hild provided some rough sketches from which designer Jack White adapted the slanted capital N for TNS. Today the “N” Standing foremost for “nude,” “naked,” and “natural,” may also be associated with other affirming words like “nice” or “nurturing.” Nude & Natural magazine has continued the tradition of journalistic excellence established by Clothed With The Sun. Today N is considered the journal of record among naturist publications in the English-speaking world. No other magazine, newspaper, or newsletter printed in English comes close to N in its depth and breadth of coverage of newsworthy events relating to non-lewd social nudity. N in size alone more than doubles other naturist publications around the world. TNS is proud to be the leader in covering naturist history, social commentary, arts coverage, travel reports, and other naturist-related topics.
Skinny Dipper Shop
In January 1990 TNS decided to make use of its Oshkosh office storefront by opening the Skinny Dipper Shop. The store sells magazines, T-shirts, DVDs, books, and other TNS merchandise. It is also a walk-in source for people looking for information about local skinny-dipping opportunities. The public has generally been accepting of the store’s very visible naturist presence in the heart of Oshkosh. City ordinances prohibit displaying nude photos within sight of people walking by outside of the store, so one must come inside to store to find a copy of N magazine, the merchandise, or The World’s Best Nude Beaches & Resorts. Still, the prominent signs and displays in the window lets everyone know that skinny-dipping is a part of Oshkosh. Approximately once a year an undercover police officer will step into the store to see if the public outside can see any photos containing nudity. So far, these visits have not resulted in any problems for TNS.
TNS & Nude Networking In Europe
TNS began in the early 1980s as what seemed to many to be the younger–and perhaps estranged–sister to the older and larger American Sunbathing Association (now AANR). In its first decade however, TNS matured to take the leading role in America on the issue of nudity on public lands. As AANR and TNS enter the year 2008, both acknowledge that that they and other naturist organizations need to work together if they are to continue to grow and be effective. TNS has, from the earliest years, sought out opportunities to work with other like-minded groups. The attempts to form inter-organizational coalitions like the Naturist/Nudist Leadership Council are an example. TNS has also, when the opportunity has presented itself, actively sought ties with naturist groups outside of the United States. On June 14-18,1986, TNS representatives and two dozen others from the U.S., Greece, Chile, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, Finland, and India met for the first International Conference on Nude Beaches, held at Antiparos, Greece. Angelos Mimikopoulos of Greece suggested the idea to TNS in 1983, but it took three years to bring the conference to fruition. Attendees offered position papers on a variety of topics relating to free beach philosophy and history. The series of meetings was chaired by Lee Baxandall. The following year, Mimikopoulos, Baxandall, and Johanna Moore responded to the suggestion of photo-journalist Leif Heilberg, organized a second International Conference on Nude Beaches, which took place in Hungary from June 27 to July 5, 1987. This again drew naturist leaders from around the world. A third such event was organized by TNS for June 31-July 7, 1990 in the Provence region of France.
Trade Association For Nude Recreation
While focusing on the promotion of naturism through effective public relations and seeking to work with a diverse group of naturist and nudist organizations, TNS has also pushed for higher standards of business practice at landed facilities. The ASA formed the Trade Association for Nude Recreation at their 1987 Club Owners Meeting, a group long-nurtured by James Hadley of Florida. TANR was to serve the business interests of all entrepreneurs relating to nude recreation. At TANR’s 1990 business meeting, TNS was asked to volunteer by Hadley, and was then elected to take a turn as TANR’s administrative agent. This meant that for the next couple of years TANR’s “headquarters” would be in Oshkosh. TNS was happy to oblige this service because it supported TANR’s attempts to define and raise the objectives of nudist clubs and resorts.Stephen Payne, then one of the owners of Desert Shadows Inn in Palm Springs, California, shared TNS’ concern for landed clubs standards. Too many nudist clubs were providing shoddy service, dirty lodging, and mediocre food, and there was no way to hold them to any industry standard. At the November 16-19, 1992 TANR meeting at Cypress Cove in Florida, Payne challenged the naturist and nudist business leaders there to improve their standards and to stop catering to the easy, quick money of sleazy lingerie shows, nude beauty pageants, and wet T-shirt contests. He encouraged them to stand up for naturist principles and not to give nudism’s critics something to point to. Payne and Baxandall saw eye-to-eye on this point, and thus when Payne suggested he would call his new resort ” The Naturist Society’s Desert Shadows Inn” Baxandall was delighted to have him do so. Payne, and co-owners Linda Payne, Ray Lovato, and Sue Lovato then went on to establish a paradigm of excellence in naturist resort business practice with Desert Shadows.
The Naturist Society Network: Policies Support Inclusion Of Singles, Gays, Families, Women
What distinguishes TNS from other naturist groups in many people’s minds is the organization’s commitment to inclusion. Freely acknowledging that its members are diverse in opinion, interests, and lifestyle, and that many of them will not agree with everything they see reported on or praised in <em>N </em>, TNS nevertheless has a distinctive leaning on certain issues that are sometimes only obliquely related to naturism. Many of these issues have to do with the acceptance of others. TNS established the Naturist Network as a way to promote those naturist clubs, resorts, and beach-support groups that adhere to TNS’ basic philosophy. These groups agree to support TNS and allow TNS members to take part in their activities; and their policies and activities must not be in conflict with the TNS Statement of Naturist Values, which says, in part: “The Naturist Society does not recognize groups or clubs which promise or intend primarily to promote sexual activity, or which practice a policy of exclusion based on race, religion, age, sexual preference, or gender.” TNS acknowledges that a private club or group has every right to choose its associates. A club could limit its membership to left-handed, middle-aged, Chinese astronomers if it wanted to. However, to be part of the Naturist Network, clubs and groups must practice a high degree of inclusiveness.
As the 1983 TNS-commissioned Gallup poll showed, and as any naturist club operator can verify, men tend to be more comfortable trying out naturism for the first time than are women. Some studies indicate that once people become involved in social nudity, women enjoy it more and feel they derive more benefit from it than men. Still, in some cases clubs and groups find themselves with what seems to be a gender imbalance of men over women. TNS does not accept this as sufficient to warrant systematic denial to singles of access to club or group activities. Singles contribute as many valuable resources to a group as do married people. They offer help in volunteer projects; they provide needed income for the group; and they help the group more closely match the demographics of society. The population outside the boundaries of the club walls or group functions is not 100 percent married. There are singles and married people, young and old, black and white, rich and poor. Since TNS claims vigorously that naturism is natural for all people, unless there is good reason to suspect that an individual will cause problems to the health and integrity of the group, he or she should not be excluded for being single. TNS’ Naturist Network Participating Agreement specifically states: “It is acknowledged that single male visitors may be subject to a quota if Club deems this unavoidable. If Club does limit the admission of males without accompanying females according to a ‘quota’ system, this must be clearly published and fairly administered…clubs or groups whose quota policies are so strict as to create a de facto exclusion of singles may be removed from the Network.”
TNS has also led other naturist (or nudist) organizations in its demand for acceptance of gays at naturist functions. This does not mean that TNS accepts public sexual behavior from anyone in naturist contexts such as clubs or free beaches, as some critics of the policy have implied. What it means is that it does not matter to TNS whether naturists are straight or gay; and as long as a visitor at a naturist setting behaves in a family-friendly manner, he or she should be welcome. The phrase “family-friendly” is chosen carefully here, in lieu of the more commonly used “family-oriented.” TNS wishes to promote and be associated only with naturist groups that provide an atmosphere that would be appropriate for families with children (and grandparents) of a variety of ages. The groups need not be oriented to families to the extent that all activities must be designed to appeal to the interests of young children and their parents. No group is likely to plan activities that are of interest to families with youngsters at all times. TNS does ask however, that its clubs and groups demand etiquette, behavior, and activities that would be comfortable for most families, should families be there. Some groups associated with TNS skirt the edges of this admittedly vague request, but TNS continues to do what it can to promote inclusive yet healthy naturist environments. Three other tendencies distinguish TNS from other naturist organizations. The philosophy of TNS, if not of every one of its individual members, strongly and publicly supports the development of women’s rights; the preservation of the natural environment; and the advancement of the arts.
In the past 20 years, TNS has published nearly 30 features on topfree equality in CWS </em> and N . The Naturist Action Committee has worked with Topfree rights groups like the Topfree Equality Rights Association, led by Canada’s Paul Rapoport, 18 and has funded challenges in court to give women the same right as men to bare their chests in public. Perhaps the most dramatic example was TNS’ involvement with the Rochester Topfree Seven, a group who successfully challenged a discriminatory law in New York state to gain topfreedom for women there in 1992.In the mid-1980s Michelle Handler and some other activist women in TNS began to attack what they believed to be sexist depictions of women in magazines. Pointing to the disproportionate coverage of women in CWS, Handler claimed that TNS and other naturist/nudist organizations needed to present more males in their periodicals and advertisements. Moreover, the critics charged, they needed to show a greater array of body shapes, sizes, and colors. Handler’s approach became divisive and took up much of TNS’ attention during the late 1980s; but the heart of her message was worth careful consideration. TNS has wanted all along to support women in naturism, but now saw that it could be done, and perhaps should be done, in a slightly different way. Over the course of the next two or three years CWS, and then N, would present a much more complete picture of the naturist population.
Today N shows naturists in all their assorted shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities. As America has gained weight, so too have the people in N. As naturists have aged, so too have those depicted in its premier journal. No naturist organization and no naturist magazine can claim to more accurately display the beauty and vitality, as well as the warts and scars, of naturism as TNS and N magazine. Arising from the ecologically aware youth of the 1970s, TNS continues its emphasis on our natural connection to the biosphere. Beach and hot spring support groups in the Naturist Network often host clean-up days, assisting the local management agency in caring for the site. This not only helps to foster good relationships with the site authorities, it also manifests a naturist interest in maintaining the integrity and health of the land.
TNS gatherings and festivals routinely offer workshops and seminars informing attendees about their relationship to the natural world. Vegetarian choices are offered at gathering and festival meals. And each gathering offers the chance to get away from the developed club grounds for a day to a local beach or hot spring. This may seem like a small point, but far too many naturists forget the joys of being out in nature clothes-free, surrounded by birds and animals, and swimming in the living water of lakes and streams. Lee Baxandall’s early work in theatrical and performance arts set the tone for TNS’ support of aesthetic excellence. N has covered many important art works and events that illustrate the themes of body acceptance of social nudity. Articles have appeared on paintings, sculpture, opera, theater, performance art, literature, and cinema. TNS has supported a number of artists who have shown special talent in developing naturist themes in an aesthetically satisfying manner. TNS has sponsored workshops in art modeling, figure drawing, silk screening, watercolor painting, acting, dance, photography, and music. In 1997 and 1998 TNS even hosted clothing-optional Jazz Festivals near Seattle, Washington, featuring the top jazz musicians of the region.
TNS & The Future
As TNS enters the 21st Century, it acknowledges that naturists and non-naturists are becoming cyber-literate and that more and more people are looking to the Internet for their information and reading recreation. Although TNS remains a membership organization expressing itself primarily through the printed word and face-to-face personal interaction, TNS and N are responding to the call for online access. TNS has maintained a Web site since 1996, at www.naturistsociety.com. The site has been completely re-designed several times, featuring access to N articles, Network contacts, Gathering & Festival information, NAC Alerts, and an online Skinny Dipper Shop.
Today new naturist Web sites appear on the Internet on a daily basis. The vast majority of these are unedited and include information and reports that are largely unverified. TNS has decided to do what it does best–producing a reliable magazine and Beach Guide–at the same time using new technologies to further people’s access to the information the organization can provide. What you probably not see at the TNS Web site are chat areas and message boards, endless lists of Web links, daily updates–these TNS will leave to the Web sites of its members and affiliates. This is where TNS stands at the start of the new century. Its members are loyal–retention rates stay above 80 percent–and retain much of the volunteer, grassroots spirit that helped to move issues of body-freedom out of the mid-century dark ages of corporate nudism. It is established as the leading advocate for nude use on appropriate public and private lands. Its magazine is a model and benchmark for many naturist publications. It remains innovative, even to introducing terms such as “canuding,” “topfree,” “nude recreation,” and “family-friendly” into the common language. With all of its diversity and idiosyncrasies, The Naturist Society moves ahead in a largely unified front, proclaiming still that “Body Acceptance is the Idea–Nude Recreation is the Way.” Expect even more from TNS in the decades to come.
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