An Exhibition at the Fairmount Water Works

(Re)Opening March 22, 2022

Postponed due to major flooding just days before the originally scheduled opening, the POOL Exhibit is now open!

POOL: A History of Social Segregation is an exhibition at the Fairmount Water Works, opening September 3, 2021

Our inspiring new exhibition explores the connection between water, social justice and public health.

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Admission to POOL is free.

Fairmount Water Works
640 Waterworks Dr.
Philadelphia, PA 19130

(215) 685-0723

Wednesday – Friday
12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

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Philadelphia Water Department and Fairmount Water Works logos

The Fairmount Water Works leads the education efforts of the Philadelphia Water Department.

Don’t miss this immersive experience! Explore a little-known but significant history in the rich architectural setting of the Fairmount Water Works Kelly Pool.

Simone Manuel, the first Black woman in Olympic history to win an individual gold medal in swimming (2016)
Photograph courtesy of Mike Lewis

POOL illuminates a history of segregated swimming in America, and connects to present-day drowning issues affecting Black communities. Highlights include:

  • Contemporary Voices: Gather around our virtual pool to see and hear personal experiences of swimming icons, activists, and scholars.
  • Inspiring videos and archival photos reveal a story of exclusion that we must learn from.
  • Site Specific Art Installations weave the story of POOL through film, animations, soundscapes, and murals.

” The story of water is a story of social justice. This is true for drinking, bathing, and swimming water. POOL brings this history of swimming to light for positive social change.”

Victoria Prizzia
POOL Creator and founder of Habithèque Inc.
A teal label reading "Stories from POOL" in playful fonts overlays the top right corner of a black and white photograph showing two African American girls, one in a white sleeveless dress with a dark belt and dark flats, the other in a light colored short sleeved top, dark pants, and white socks and sneakers, standing outside the chain link fence surrounding a swimming pool, fingers entwined in the fence as the nearer (Mamie Livingston) looks inside, and the other looks at her. Inside the fence, white people are visible in and around the pool, and a young girl with light skin and chin length, light hair sits on the ground in a small group smiling at the camera.
Mamie Livingston (right) led efforts to desegregate Baltimore’s public pools in the 1950s.

Racial discrimination at swimming pools

The waters of our public pools reflected profound racial and economic divisions running through American communities. They became spaces where cultural values and biases have been contested and disputed—sometimes violently.

Along with a general shift of funds away from public pools to private clubs, sports and recreation, this history has made a lasting impact on Black communities that continues today.

The historic content of POOL was written in collaboration with Dr. Jeff Wiltse, author of Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America. Photo (left) courtesy of Afro-American Newspapers Archives and Research Center, Baltimore

National Icon:
Jim Ellis, Swimming Coach

In 1971, Jim formed the Philadelphia Department of Recreation (or “Pride, Determination, Resilience”) swim team at the Marcus Foster Recreation Center.

His efforts made competitive swimming an option within the city, and improved pool access for all Black swimmers. His program helped Black swimmers receive college scholarships, and became a model for urban swim teams around the country.

Photo (right) by Burk Uzzlee, courtesy of International Swimming Hall of Fame

Jim Ellis, with brown skin, short black hair and mustache, wearing a blue short sleeved shirt, sits in the middle of a diverse group of young swimmers posed for a photo in swim suits and some in swim caps, laughing as two in the back dump a large bucket of water over his head, splashing onto the kids in the front row and all over.
Jim Ellis and the PDF Swim Team

Dive in! Get involved with Philadelphia’s swim community.

Learn about opportunities that help save lives and expand essential aquatic access.

We Can Swim!

This University of Pennsylvania program offers free swimming lessons to vulnerable youth of almost any age and specifically for those of the African American and Hispanic communities.

Diversity in Aquatics, Inc.

The nation’s largest network of ethnically diverse aquatic professionals, athletes, enthusiasts, and researchers working together to help save lives.

Philadelphia Parks and Recreation

Swim Philly
Offers activities and enhancements for neighborhood pools across Philadelphia.

Finder App
Find pools across Philadelphia.

a diverse group of young children in swim suits, many wearing swim caps and goggles or sunglasses, stand close together for the picture, some smiling for the camera, others squinting at the bright sunlight.
Diversity in Aquatics is building knowledge and inclusivity at every level of aquatic activity.
Photo courtesy of Diversity in Aquatics

“In 1883, the City of Philadelphia opened the country’s first outdoor public swimming pool.

The City continues to offer all residents access to swimming lessons and water activities. And yet, equitable access to clean water remains an issue in America and around the world.”

Karen Young

Executive Director, Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center

POOL was made possible by generous support from:

The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage

Special thanks to
the Philadelphia Water Department, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, Philadelphia Magazine, and the Fund for the Fairmount Water Works.

Philadelphia Parks & Recreation - Find your path

Philadelphia Magazine