Rusty Williams
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First Female Lifeguard

Every other month or so I receive an email or a letter from someone who’s spotted themselves or a relative among the photos in Historic Photos of Dallas in the 50s, 60, and 70s. I always enjoy hearing their stories. In this case, I knew how the photo came to be taken when I wrote the book, but I didn’t know the whole story. Here it is:

The photo in the book shows an attractive young woman sitting in the lifeguard stand at one of the city’s public swimming pools on opening day. What made the picture interesting was that the high school senior was among the first women hired as lifeguards by the Dallas Parks Department. (They called them “girls” then.) This gender breakthrough was newsworthy enough in 1969 that the Dallas Morning News sent a photographer to take a photo and run it on the front page of the newspaper.

What I learned was that the young woman — as a junior in a Dallas high school — had written to the city demanding that they hire qualified women on an equal basis. “I told them it wasn’t fair to turn down girls who had passed the same Red Cross water safety course that the boys take,” she said. The next season there were nine qualified young women with city-issued lifeguard whistles.

Half a century later the idea of a female lifeguard is hardly worthy of notice. But this young woman — still in her teens at the time — is one of the thousands of unsung women who spoke up, demanded equal treatment, and earned it for herself and the women who followed her.

 

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