TNS: A History

"When the culture into which we are born strays too far from nature’s laws, we suffer; a ‘naturalization’ is in order." — TNS founder Lee Baxandall

Officially, The Naturist Society was formed in 1980. Unofficially, however, it goes back much further, to the American "free beach" movement of the 1970s and, earlier still, to a back-to-nature ethos that emerged in Europe during the industrial revolution.

Perhaps its most recognizable forerunner was the free-body culture movement, which flourished in Germany at the turn of the last century. This freikorperkultur, or FKK, was a sometimes studied, sometimes spontaneous reaction to the excesses of a rapidly industrializing society. Cut off from nature and increasingly urbanized, Germans of the pre-Nazi era responded by embracing life in the great outdoors—sans clothing.

To be sure, there was more to it than that. Nudity of the FKK variety was accompanied by a renewed emphasis on fitness and health, and a growing appreciation of the natural world. There were nude hikes and visits to the beach, nude exercise regimens, and an overarching belief that the naked human form should be nurtured and respected, not scorned as coarse and sinful.

In America, such a mindset was slow to develop. So-called nudist colonies did exist here, but there was nothing that could be described as a movement. "Nudism" in America was cloistered and secretive; not quite an underground activity but far from mainstream.

It wasn’t until the 1960s, a time of intense social, cultural, and political ferment, that attitudes began to change. And in the forefront of that change was Lee Baxandall, the man who would go on to found The Naturist Society. Working in New York as a writer, editor and critic, Baxandall would make occasional forays to Cape Cod with his wife and their young son. There the three took up skinny-dipping and made friends with a small but dedicated group of like-minded people.

Fast forward to 1974 and the outline of what was to become TNS starts to take form. That was the year when official attempts to ban skinny-dipping at the Cape Cod National Seashore intensified. It was also the year Baxandall became a free-beach activist.

With a background in writing and editing and a knack for organizing, Baxandall was soon much in demand in free-beach circles. It was, of course, a pre-Internet world, and getting the word out about free beaches and how to protect them was a daunting task. As luck would have it, it was a task well suited to Baxandall’s talents.

Using ad hoc beach newspapers, beach protests, and on one occasion in 1976 a special "skinny-dipper issue" of a quarterly social issues magazine he co-founded, Baxandall emerged as an influential voice in the rapidly growing free-beach movement.

Soon, he found himself in the middle of such important naturist events as the formation of the Free the Free Beach Committee, created to save skinny-dipping on Cape Cod; the inauguration of National Nude Weekend in 1976 (now Nude Recreation Week); and the founding of the Free Beaches Documentation Center, a kind of clearinghouse for North American naturists.

Located in Oshkosh, Wis., Baxandall’s hometown, the documentation center set the stage for TNS. Baxandall had returned to Oshkosh to help with the family business, a vocational education marketing and advertising company. By happy coincidence, the family business worked closely with printers and publishers, and that gave Baxandall an idea: why not expand his role as head of the documentation center by becoming a publisher for the growing North American free-beach movement?

With that were born two important publications. The first was the World Guide to Nude Beaches and Recreation, which soon became a best-selling travel guide and remains one of the most respected resources of its kind. The second, Clothed with the Sun (now Nude & Natural, or N), was a quarterly formed to promote a culture of body acceptance, with nude recreation and living at its core. Launched in 1981, the magazine is today a cornerstone of TNS, which was incorporated the previous year with Baxandall as owner and president.

From the beginning, The Naturist Society was dedicated to a form of naturism that focused on grassroots activism and member participation. The choice of the word "naturist" in the name is telling. The term was widely used in Europe to denote family-friendly, body-friendly places, activities, and attitudes and, at the same time, it was free of the negative connotations "nudist" had acquired over the years.

In the 20-plus years since its founding, TNS has changed with the times. To underscore its mission as a member organization dedicated to family-friendly nude recreation, TNS launched annual Gatherings at select clubs and resorts across the United States. Today, these get-togethers are central to the TNS experience, offering workshops and an array of social, recreational, and cultural activities—all clothing optional, of course.

In the early ‘90s, faced with growing opposition to nude recreation from the religious right, two allied organizations were formed. The nonprofit Naturist Action Committee became TNS’ legal, political and lobbying arm while the Naturist Education Foundation, also a nonprofit, took up the challenge of promoting naturism to a sometimes skeptical public.

At the turn of the new century, that challenge and others were being met in many ways—through local and regional groups in TNS’s Naturist Network; through legal and lobbying activities; through opinion surveys that underscore widespread public tolerance of nude use on select public lands; and through educational and informational efforts that stress the family-friendly nature of TNS-style naturism.

In early 2002 Baxandall retired, eventually turning the administration of TNS over to Nicky Hoffman Lee and Margaret Thornton.

While the management team is new, the TNS commitment to naturism and its emphasis on member involvement remains as strong as ever. Looking ahead, the challenge is to energize TNS’ existing members while recruiting new ones.

Like any organization TNS must adapt to change, but that doesn’t mean we’ll lose sight of our core principles. The central idea, first articulated by Lee, still guides The Naturist Society: "Body acceptance is the idea; nude recreation is the way."

 
 

 

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