We are excited to announce that the Tarpon Club Collection has been recently re-processed and updated by project archivist Christine Bethke. Included in the update are new scrapbooks, memorabilia, photographs, and films that have been acquired over the past 10 years.
The Tarpon Club began during the early 1920s as the Florida State College for Women (FSCW) Life Saving Corps. The Life Saving Corps began holding exhibitions in the Montgomery Gym indoor pool demonstrating aquatic skills during the 1930’s. These exhibitions featured form swimming, figure swimming, speed swimming, lifesaving techniques, diving, and canoe handling. In the spring of 1937, members of the Corps under the direction of Betty Washburn formed the Tarpon Club, choosing the tarpon fish as its mascot due to its reputation of being an acrobat of Florida waters. The club presented its first “water pageant” in the fall of that year featuring swimming stroke demonstrations and floating patterns performed with musical accompaniment. In 1938, the Tarpons initiated its first group of “Minnows,” or first year members, and established the tradition of requiring Minnows to participate in the club and improve their skills until they were judged eligible to become full-fledged Tarpons. The Club continued to perform at least one production per year, with each show containing a central theme, until its disbandment in 1994.
During its long existence, the Tarpon Club garnered a number of awards and received invitations to perform at national and international aquatic exhibitions. The International Academy of Aquatic Art and the National Institute for Creative Aquatics recognized the Tarpons’ skill through the years with numerous awards, and the club also received an award for its performance in the United States Synchronized Swimming Collegiate National Championships.
Notable sports writer Grantland Rice featured the Tarpon Club three times in his “Sportlight” series of short films produced by Jack Eton: “Aqua Rhythm,” filmed in Wakulla Springs in 1941, “Campus Mermaids,” also filmed there in 1945, and “Water Symphony,” filmed in both Wakulla Springs and Cypress Gardens in 1953. The Florida Department of Commerce filmed the Tarpon performance “A Dip in Dixie” in 1964 to promote tourism in the State of Florida. Some Life Saving Corps and Tarpon Alumni continued their film roles. Corps member Martha Dent Perry served as the character Jane’s stunt double in “Tarzan’s Secret Treasure” filmed at Wakulla Springs in 1941, and Tarpon member Jean Knapp served as Jane’s stunt double in “Tarzan’s New York Adventure,” also filmed at Wakulla Springs in 1942. Tarpon Nancy Tribble served as an underwater double for actress Anne Blythe in the 1953 film “Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid,” and designed the famous mermaid logo for the mermaid attraction at Weekiwachee Springs with Sis Myers, another Tarpon alumna. Tarpon member Sherry Brown also swam in the chorus of the 1953 Esther Williams film “Easy to Love.” Another notable Tarpon alumna, 1943 FSCW graduate Nancy Kulp, starred in several television shows, films, and theater productions. Also of note is Katherine Rawls, a swimmer in the 1936 Corps and a two-time Olympic swimmer and diver in the 1932 and 1936 summer games. Rawls would go on to be a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) during World War II.
When the Club disbanded in 1994, it was the Nation’s oldest continuously active collegiate swim group as well as the oldest club on the Florida State University campus.
To see more photographs, ephemera, and artifacts related to the history of Florida State, check out the FSU Heritage Protocol Digital Collections or like the Heritage Protocol Facebook page