Syndicated illustration from “Adventures of Evanston’s Juul of a Police Woman,” June 1919. The image depicts Georgianna Juul, who served on the Evanston police force for many years. (See more below.)

Policing the beaches

In the direct wake of the 1919 Chicago race riot, Evanston City officials would intensify the monitoring of the City’s beaches. Part of that process involved establishing expanded safety procedures, including hiring more official beach guards (aka lifeguards).

Prior to World War I, there were only a handful of official beach guards posted on Evanston beaches. Occasionally residents volunteered their services to keep watch when no guards were present. [1] And in some cases, a beach guard was a former member of the Evanston police. This was the case with Nellie Werts, formerly an Evanston police officer, who was appointed to serve as official beach “matron” at Cook Street beach in 1915. Werts’ role was to “give especial care to the women and children.” Also on duty at Cook Street beach was “Red” Whittle, a star basketball player at Northwestern University.[2] (The hiring of Northwestern students as beach guards would become commonplace through the years.) 

The beach front residence of the Corrados, Evanston City Directory, 1912. One of Evanston’s longest serving beach guards was Frank Corrado (c. 1870-1918). In 1912, Corrado was first hired as an official “keeper of the beach” at the Lee Street beach. He later worked at Lincoln Street beach. Corrado was also in charge of running the various amenities which were supplied to bathers: clothes-changing tents, rentals of umbrellas, boats, and bathing suits (25 cents per suit per “dip”), and towel service. In his 12 years of service, Corrado rescued more than 200 people. There had never been a fatality on his watch. [3]

In order to bring some measure of safety to the shores, Evanston’s first lifesaving crew had been formed in 1871. Comprised largely of Northwestern University students, the crew was dedicated to providing lifesaving services, particularly for crews of sailing vessels. But many were the times when crew members were summoned to help save people from the lake’s dramatic waters, where the water’s frigid cold and undertow often threatened swimmers.

The United States Life Saving Station (the smaller building directly on the right of the pier) and boathouse (directly to the left of the pier), Clark Street beach, Evanston, 1894. Located on the lakefront at the south end of the Northwestern University campus, the station was completed in 1877. In 1915, the U.S. Coast Guard took over operations of the station. In 1931 it was closed permanently. The buildings were turned over to Northwestern University and were demolished in 1954. (Photo from U.S. Coast Guard)
Clark Street beach, Evanston, c. 1915-1931. Evanston’s lifesaving station and boat house are in the direct background. (Photo from Northwestern University Archives)

Lifesaving was the number one duty of the beach guards. But for some years, the haphazard appointment of guards meant that many beaches were left unpatrolled. In 1916, after a Northwestern student drowned in the lake, members of the Mary Giddings Circle, a women’s club in Evanston, hired two Northwestern students to patrol Lee Street beach from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.[4] Just days after being hired, the new guards had already performed their first rescues.[5] 

Indeed, numerous drownings took place in the lake, and many were the times that Evanston residents saved (or tried to save) others.

Cleo Martin of Evanston – another lakeshore “heroine.” “Youth Drowns While a Girl Saves Another,” Chicago Tribune, August 11, 1928.

In 1919, Evanston resident and champion swimmer, Marian Furness, dove off the pier at Clark Street beach after hearing the cries a 15 year-old girl who was on the verge of drowning. Furness swam to her, using “the overhand crawl,” for which, the Chicago Tribune noted, she “had won numerous medals” as a student at the Evanston Academy. Furness towed the girl back to shore where she was resuscitated.

Nineteen year-old Cleo Martin wasn’t a champion swimmer, but she was quick to react when she heard cries from the lake. Two friends, who had been swimming together and were about 100 yards off the shore of Lee Street Beach, became endangered by the heavy seas “thrown up by the northeast winds.” One of the swimmers had already gone under when the cries of the other swimmer attracted the attention of the people on the beach. But it was only Martin who “caught the significance” of them. She plunged in and successfully saved one of the men from drowning.[6]

As City officials focused more attention on maintaining Evanston’s beaches, the process of hiring beach guards would become more formalized. And, along with lifesaving, guarding the beach would also increasingly involve policing the beach for violators of Evanston’s city codes. In particular, guards were on the lookout for violators of City Code number 1112, which stated that no one could swim in Lake Michigan without wearing a “proper” bathing suit.

Just what makes a suit “proper”? The vagueness of this City code foreshadowed a long battle over efforts to define propriety on the City’s beaches. Revised Ordinances of the City of Evanston, Illinois, 1904.

“Lakeside costumes” or bathing costumes were available for rent at some Evanston’s beaches (with tents or huts provided for changing clothes). But with the rise in the popularity of bathing as recreation, manufactured fashionable suits became more widely available, and not all were considered proper by those in power to enforce standards.

Born in Norway, Georgianna Juul (1886-1952) had a long career on the police force and was involved in various crime investigations. She also served on Evanston’s film censorship board. [9] Chicago Tribune, May 1, 1915.

Indeed, Evanston officials were determined that nothing improper be worn or seen on the City’s shores. To help enforce the code, officials would rely heavily for many years on one woman: Georgianna Juul, an Evanston police officer who served on the force from 1915 to 1940.

Among her other duties, Officer Juul was tasked with beach patrol. She was certainly not the sole officer who was assigned beach duty, but she soon became somewhat notorious as she doggedly pursued anyone in violation of the City’s dress code for bathers.[7] By 1921, Juul had even taken to using a rowboat “to pursue bathers in abbreviated suits.”[8] Juul’s actions were part of the City’s larger efforts to monitor the public spaces of the lakefront.

In the 1920s – in the wake of the Chicago race riot and in the midst of Prohibition – regulation of the City’s beaches would intensify. At that time, Evanston officials had begun waging a battle against what they identified as the “crime wave” that had swept the city. Like other cities across the country, Evanston beefed up law enforcement as officials sought to battle bootlegging and other vice related crimes; they also began to expand police infrastructure, impose greater surveillance, and pass a variety of city ordinances that restricted behavior.  

Clark Street beach, c. 1920s. (Postcard from Evanston History Center Archives)

In 1921, the City formed a special “aerial police force” whose two members patrolled the lakefront by plane.[10] Policing of the City’s beaches was also conducted by others granted special authority, from beach guards to beach police. (As late as 1962, Evanston’s lifeguards and lakefront director were sworn in as “special police.”[11])

In 1927, former Chicago police officer, William O. Freeman (1886-1961), was appointed Evanston’s Chief of Police.[12] For 12 years, Freeman led the City’s crime fighting efforts. Freeman was notorious for his “no nonsense” approach to anything that smacked of impropriety. His efforts ranged from waging a “war on vagrants” – whereby officers were ordered to arrest anyone in Evanston “without visible means of support” –  to ordering the arrest of anyone playing the ukulele on a beach after 9 p.m. [13]

In May 1931, as Officer Georgiana Juul continued her patrol of the lakefront, she issued her own edict ordering all “feminine bathers” at Evanston beaches to wear skirted bathing suits and to cover their backs. “The one piece streamlined model,” Juul ordered, “is to be regarded as illegal for both men and women.”[14] Also outlawed were white bathing suits and men were ordered to cover their chests at all times.

Beachgoer, Evanston beach, 1925. “Women may wear jersey knit suits, provided the suit has a skirt, or a skirt effect, or trunks, not shorter than 7 inches above the knee. Bathers going to or from the beaches much must wear bathrobes or coats closed in the front,” read Northwestern’s beach regulations. Evanston also outlawed the wearing of bathing suits on city streets. Violators would be arrested and charged with indecency. (Photo from Evanston History Center Archives)

“The practice of dropping the upper part of the suit to the waistline is prohibited. No tank suit of any description shall be permitted unless warn with trunks.” These were just a few of the numerous rules at Northwestern University beaches. The university, along with Evanston, also barred: “all white or flesh [sic] colored suits.”

Despite the fact that both the City and Northwestern University imposed strict codes, it was Juul’s order that caused a stir nationwide. “Police woman on Evanston beaches,” one paper teased, “rules that feminine bathers must wear about everything but the kitchen stove. Sun back suits, one piece suits exposing the leg (limb in Evanston) more than six inches above the knee, shirtless suits and other indecent attire are positively prohibited on Evanston beaches by the decree issued by Policewoman Juul today. A highly moral and acceptable bathing costume for ladies will be red flannel, wrist-to-ankle underwear, hoop skirt with bustle, turtleneck sweater, shoes, stockings, cape and picture hat.” [16]

In July 1929, Chief of Police Freeman announced that he would have arrested and charged with indecent exposure “any woman who walks through the streets in a backless bathing suit and nothing more.”[17] Freeman’s pledge was partly a reaction to the City Council’s failure to pass an ordinance regulating specific bathing suit styles (rather than using the generic term “proper”). As Charles Byrnes, Evanston’s Superintendent of Recreation, put it, the City’s policy was that “Bathers need only follow common standards of decency. They may deviate from conservative styles as long as their costumes are not too extreme.”[18]

With this, legal as well as moral authority was directly placed in the hands of individual police officers and beach guards to determine just who or what they defined as “improper.” Northwestern University officials explicitly outlined this kind of authority when they authorized their beach guards “to expel anyone from the beaches whose suit in his or their discretion is not in conformity with public decency.”[19]

City residents, especially those living near the beaches, would regularly summon the police after witnessing any “indecent” activities. One summer day in 1918, for example, a resident called the police after watching several people parked near the beach, changing their clothes in their car. The police arrived. They were all arrested.[20]

“Relaxing” at the beach, Daily News, July 2, 1929. Evanston officials were serious when it came to recreation. In 1930, one hapless Evanston beach visitor was fined $5 for baring her unclothed arm and shoulder out of a curtained car window while she was parked near the beach. [21]

Since the vast majority of the City’s policing and guarding roles were filled by men (despite the attention Georgianna Juul received), it was clear that women venturing onto Evanston’s beaches would be subject not only to the male gaze, but also, on occasion, the measuring tape.

Men, of course, were also subject to scrutiny and even arrest on Evanston’s beaches. In July 1929, two men were arrested and later fined for disorderly conduct after they had taken a swim at an Evanston beach dressed in their street clothes. [22] “Clothing at beach considered crime in Evanston IL,” read the headline of the Associated Press story that was carried in papers across the country. One of the men told a reporter that he was “disturbed” by the incident. “Why in Chicago everybody bathes with clothes on and no one complains about it,” he said. “I was just trying to sober my friend and was ducking him when the police came,” he explained.[23]

A year later, a 33 year-old Chicago resident was convicted of “indecent exposure” after he removed his shoes and socks at Evanston’s Clark Street beach. The police officer who arrested him told a reporter that he had been watching the man closely. Once the man had taken off his shoes and socks, the officer explained, it was clear that he intended to change into his bathing suit in his car in “defiance of the law.”[24]

Evanston beach, 1922. Hey, kid! Cover up! It was not until 1934 that the Evanston City Council voted to allow women to wear white bathing suits (previously barred) and men to wear swimming trunks (rather than the one-piece tank style previously required.) [25] (Photo from Evanston History Center Archives)

Part 3 – Legalized restrictions

Part 1- A look at Evanston’s beaches

[1] “Offer Services to City as Main Street Guards,” Evanston News-Index, July 16, 1921.

[2] “Cook Street Bathing Beach is Now Open,” Evanston News Index, June 24, 1915.

[3] United States Census, 1910, Chicago Ward 17, Cook, Illinois, United States. In 1890, Frank and his wife Mary immigrated to the United States from Italy. They settled in Chicago and Frank Corrado worked as a fruit peddler. The couple had nine children. Prior to being appointed beach keeper, Frank and his family moved to Evanston and lived at 97 Dempster Street. In 1917, the Evanston City Council awarded Corrado a gold medal in honor of his service. Corrado died of a heart attack while vacationing in Monterey, California, in October 1918. “Frank Corrado Drops Dead of Heart Failure,” Evanston News-Index, October 10, 1918.

[4] “Evanston Women Hire Guards for Lee Beach,” Chicago Tribune, August 6, 1916.

[5] “4 Rescues in Day Record of 15 Year Old Life Guard,” Chicago Tribune, August 10, 1916.

[6] “Youth Drowns While a Girl Saves Another,” Chicago Tribune, August 11, 1928.

[7] “Evanston Beach Opens July 4,” Chicago Tribune, June 25, 1914. Before being appointed Cook Street beach matron, Nellie Werts had served on Evanston’s police force. As “Evanston’s policewoman,” she was tasked with beach patrol, along with patrolling parks and other “places of amusement.” Juul succeeded Werts.

[8] “Coppette Needs a Rowboat at Evanston Beach,” Chicago Tribune, July 12, 1921. 

[9] “Mrs. Georgianna Juul,” Chicago Tribune, October 30, 1952.

[10] Aerial police from U.S. Air Service, “Will Chicago Become Center of Aircraft Industry,” August 1922, 23; “Evanston Installs Aerial Police to Keep Down Crime,” Decatur Herald, June 7, 1921.

[11] “Guards Become Special Police,” Evanston Review, June 21, 1962.

[12] “New Chief,” Chicago Tribune, May 18, 1927.

[13] “Benefactor,” Indianapolis Times, June 22, 1931. By 1934, Freeman even implored all Evanston residents to come to the police headquarters and get fingerprinted. It would be “valuable,” he said, “in case anything happens.” “Police Chief Invites All to Get Fingerprinted,” Press and Sun-Bulletin, April 3, 1934.

[14] “Police in Evanston Ready to War on Scanty Beach Suits,” Chicago Tribune, May 4, 1931; “Evanston’s Beach Sirens May Wear ‘Conscience Suits,’ ” Decatur Herald, June 12, 1931.

[15] “Beach Regulations,” Daily Northwestern, June 28, 1932.

[16] “Ultraviolet Ray Business Considered Just Hooey,” Pittsburgh Post Gazette, May 6, 1931. 

[17] “Evanston Police War on Backless Bathing Suit,” Daily News, July 2, 1929; “Modesty by Rule,” Daily News, July 2, 1929.

[18] “Evanston’s Beach Sirens May Wear ‘Conscience Suits,’ ” Decatur Herald, June 12, 1931.

[19] “Beach Regulations,” Daily Northwestern, June 28, 1932.

[20] “Highway as Dressing Room? Not in Evanston,” Chicago Tribune, July 26, 1918.

[21] “What’da Leg Go?” Santa Cruz Evening News, September 4, 1930.

[22] “Evanston Men Fined For Swimming Fully Clad,” The Times, August 13, 1929.

[23] “Clothing at Beach Considered Crime in Evanston IL,” The Star Tribune, July 17, 1929.

[24] “Removes Shoes at Beach in Evanston; Is Fined $5,” Chicago Tribune, August 13, 1930.