Thursday, June 21, 2012

Those Places Thursday: Into the pool

Those Places is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers that invites family historians to post photos and stories about places their ancestors lived. 

This is the fourth in a series based on my great-aunt Velma Davis Woodring’s scrapbook that she kept during her freshman year at Harrisonburg Teachers College (now James Madison University). 

In the early 1920s, HTC President Samuel Duke had been concerned about discipline of students living away from campus, and the student government had been concerned about maintaining loyalty to the school, especially in the summer.  When Velma began college in 1924, summer programs were in their infancy.  For the first time, an outdoor swimming pool was provided, completed just in time for Velma and her classmates.

Velma is the girl in front on the right.

Cleveland Cottage
scanned from Madison College: The First 50 Years
by Raymond C. Dingledine, Jr.
It was built in a swell behind Cleveland Cottage, a farmhouse that came with the property which had been purchased specifically for the development of a women’s college.  The Cottage in the early years housed the infirmary and classrooms, and later it provided housing for a few faculty and students. 

The swimming pool was financed through Summer School fees.

Unknown, Bill Porter, Velma Davis

Games and competitions during summer were part of the plan to maintain discipline and build school spirit.  The swimming pool got a big workout toward that end, as did the hockey field, tennis courts, basketball and volleyball courts, and golf course.

Velma is third from the left

In 1927, an indoor pool was officially opened in the newly constructed Reed Hall, later renamed Keezell Hall.  This is the same pool where I took Beginning Swimming in 1971.  When I was a student, 4 physical education credits were required for graduation: 1 swimming, 1 dance, 1 beginning level sport, and 1 intermediate level sport.  To give you an idea of the close quarters of this brick tiled pool room, here is the best photo I can find scanned from my yearbook:

Keezell Hall pool
scanned from the 1970 Bluestone

I remember counting the lights overhead with each required lap while doing the back stroke or frog-kicks. 

Thank-you Lord Baby Jesus that I took my swimming class in the Keezell pool before Godwin Hall was ready with its Olympic-size pool and stadium seating for 800.

Savage Natatorium
named for Dorothy Savage, a popular
physical education professor
who never got in the water.

That was one intimidating swimming pool that has come a long way from the little outdoor pool in the swell.

©2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. I am really loving what you've shared from Velma's scrapbook. When my mom wakes up (we are at the beach), I am going to ask her if she remembers swimming in Keezall Hall pool.

    1. Oh thank-you! So your mom went to Madison too? And she couldn't get you to go to JMU? I couldn't get my girls to even LOOK at JMU.

  2. Great post girl! Go Velma for keeping a scrapbook. I remember when you took swimming at Madison.

    1. HA -- yeah. Remember I got a wig for Christmas in preparation. LOL -- no blow-dryers back when the world was flat.

  3. Wow, those are close quarters!

    I kind of wish my school had required swimming. (Then I might have actually learned!) All we had was a crabby gym teacher who couldn't stand me. The feeling was mutual.

    1. By the time you came along, "basic studies" credits had changed a lot. I don't think either of my girls had to take any kind of physical education.

  4. Hey, thanks for answering my question about what Cleveland Cottage was from one of your previous posts.

    Haha, quite the ironic name for the swimming pool!

    1. Isn't it! Since I couldn't swim a lick when I took swimming in college, I'm sure I would have been too petrified to swim in Savage Pool.

  5. the Smaller The Pool,The Better!:)

  6. How wodnerful to have a scrapbook from the 1920's! A great source of blogging stories and they seem to be having such fun here.