Conducts research and collects data on the global history of labour, workers, and labour relations

Naked Utopia

Apart from their naked bodies, today’s recreational nudists have little in common with the nudist of a hundred years ago.
The earlier nudists were first and foremost “rebels with a cause”, attempting to make the world a better place.
Naturism/nudism – the terms are used alternately – started in the early twentieth century as a social movement in response to industrialization, urbanization, and environmental pollution:
The naturist’s idealism goes far beyond collective nudity. The naturist explores many new ideas: vegetarianism, anti-vivisection, naturopathy and natural foods. A naturist lifestyle completely repudiates alcohol and tobacco. (Zonnewijzer, 1950/4).


Apart from being a lifestyle, naturism also incorporated a utopian and egalitarian philosophy. A wide range of naturist magazines were published, with names such as Paradiso, Arcadia, or Eldorado, the British Health and Efficiency being a notable exception to the rule. In paradise, equality and freedom reign and the naked stroll about, devoid of feelings of shame or lust. It was the absence of those feelings that made naturism ideal for promoting social relationships between the two sexes, it was claimed. Such relationships were assumed to be heterosexual, and for a long time the naturist movement tried to ignore homosexuality, hoping that a heterosexual image would improve its position in the outside world. For despite their pedagogical ideals, naturists were constantly subject to accusations of paedophilia and similar “Schweinerei”.

The first naturists came from the cultural elite rather than the working class. Workers were regarded more as an appropriate audience for educating about the beneficial and wholesome aspects of naturism. Only in Germany, the cradle of naturism, was there a socialist naturist organization with a strong following. In the United States, naturism was introduced by a German socialist and a Dutch Reverend nicknamed Uncle Danny.

As a social movement, naturism has always been of relevance to the IISH. The donation to the IISH in 2001 of the large and multi-faceted library and archive of Zon en Leven (Sun and Light), the Dutch Naturist Society, was therefore especially welcome:

This collection contains all international naturist magazines and a wide range of other publications on naturism that have appeared since the 1920s, thus enabling researchers to write the largely unwritten history of the movement. The IISH also holds material relating to similar movements, such as the Dutch Vegetarian Union, the Dutch Temperance Association, and the Dutch Society for Sexual Reform.
The present Web Expo shows just a very small part of the Zon en Leven collection.

(Text: Margreet Schrevel)


1 October 2015