Nudity in social contexts has been practised in various forms by many cultures at all time periods. In Western society nowadays, social nudity is most usually encountered in the contexts of bathing, swimming and in saunas, whether in single-sex groups, within the family or with mixed-sex friends. But throughout history and in many tropical cultures till now, nudity is normal at many sports events and competitions.
The earliest known naturist club in the "western" sense of the word was established in British India in 1891. The 'Fellowship of the Naked Trust' was founded by Charles Edward Gordon Crawford, a widower who was a District and Sessions Judge for the Bombay Civil Service.
Max Koch's Freilicht, 1897
In 1902, a series of philosophical papers was published in Germany by Dr. Heinrich Pudor, under the nom de plume of Heinrich Scham, who came up with the term Nacktkultur. In 1906 he went on to pen a three volume treatise with his new term as its title, which discussed the benefits of nudity in co-education and advocated participating in sports while being free of cumbersome clothing.
It is difficult to find exactly when naturism started as a movement. The word 'naturism' was utilised for the first time in 1778 by a French-speaking Belgian, Jean Baptiste Luc Planchon (1734–1781). It was advocated as a means of improving the 'l’hygiène de vie' (natural style of life) and health.
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The wide publication of those papers and others contributed to an explosive worldwide growth of nudism, in which nudists participated in various social, recreational, and physical fitness activities in the nude. The first organized club for nudists on a large scale, Freilichtpark (Free-Light Park), was opened near Hamburg in 1903 by Paul Zimmerman.