The Female Lifeguards Of Brighton Beach, Baywatch Circa 1921

Female Lifeguards Of Brighton Beach. Source: StephiaMadelyne via Bettmann Corbis

In this photograph we have a group of three female lifeguards standing vigil over the waters of Brighton Beach in the swinging jazz days of 1921. In case you are wondering, these are not the vintage ladies we featured last December. Those female lifeguards, who very well could have been the daughters of the lifeguards featured above, were from 1940 and protected Manhattan Beach right before the outbreak of World War II.

This is a fantastic photograph that invites all sorts of interesting sociological observations. I love how the guard on the far left is laced up in what could be a pair of early 20th century Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Converse, which had been around since 1908, introduced its first pair of Chucks in 1921, so this young woman could very well be the world’s first hipster. After all, she meets all the other criteria; slim figure, skin tight leggings, and a chic, short haircut. She even has a hipster name, Gertrude Neumarker. I wonder how she expected to swim effectively with water logged canvas and rubber weighing her legs down.

As much as we fantasize about buxom Baywatch beauties giving up mouth-to-mouth after nearly drowning in the ocean, in reality, I’d much rather have the woman in the middle coming to my rescue. This guard, identified as Bertha Tomkins, is a buffed-up militarized-looking ocean protector, guaranteed not to let anyone drown on her watch. With no shoes or leg coverings, she is not constrained by the fashion taboos of her time, realizing that modest beachwear is clunky and slows down rescues.

I don’t know what to make of the last guard, Gertrude Goodstein, on the far right. She seems about as strong as the woman in the middle and as modest as the woman on the left. If I were taking the photo, I’d tell her to stand in the middle because she just seems to represent a mix of the three ladies present.

Anyway, thanks to StephiaMadelyne for posting the photo on her Now York City blog and thanks to Bettmann Corbis for providing it in the first place. If anyone else has more vintage Southern Brooklyn lifeguard photos or videos, please send them our way. We love this stuff.


Sign in or become a Bklyner member to join the conversation.