Wiltse, Jeff 1970–

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Wiltse, Jeff 1970–

(Jeffrey Wiltse)


Born September 16, 1970, in Seattle, WA; son of John (a manager) and Johannah (a school bus driver) Wiltse; married Ann Hiester (a homemaker); children: Daniel, Rose. Education: University of Puget Sound, B.A., 1993; Brandeis University, Ph.D., 2003. Politics: Independent. Religion: Episcopalian. Hobbies and other interests: Wine and tennis.


Home—Missoula, MT. Office—Department of History, University of Montana, 32 Campus Dr., Missoula, MT 59812. E-mail—[email protected]


University of Montana, Missoula, assistant professor of history, 2002—.


American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians.


Allan Nevins Prize, Society of American Historians, 2003; William F. "Buck" Dawson Author's Award, International Swimming Hall of Fame, 2007, for Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America.


Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 2007.

Contributor to periodicals, including Historian and Reviews in American History.


As a graduate student at Brandeis University, Jeff Wiltse followed a dream that led him to his doctoral research, a prize for the best dissertation from the Society of American Historians, publication of his dissertation, reviews in national periodicals, and guest appearances on national radio programs. In 1996 he had had a dream in which he was writing about the public swimming pool of his childhood in Seattle, Washington, and in 2003 he completed the dissertation that became his book, Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America. "When I soon discovered that no one had previously written on the topic, I knew I was onto something," Wiltse commented in an interview with his publisher, University of North Carolina Press.

Wiltse researched the history of community pools across the northern United States from the late 1800s to the present. He learned that what was originally intended as a way for the poorer classes to bathe became both a form of recreation and an environment where shifting attitudes toward modesty and race relations came into play. Washington Post Book World contributor John L. Jackson, Jr., remarked, "Wiltse argues that the nation's contentious history of racism, class conflict and gender inequality can be captured by chronicling the rise and fall of municipal pools in northern American cities. And he makes a compelling case." Jackson found the book both persuasive and "extremely readable." Originally imagining a book about pools as "a silly idea," Dick Cavett in the New York Times Book Review discovered that instead of a "dreary historical catalog" of various types of swimming pools, he was reading a "colorful" work that "becomes a story of America." Reviewing the work in the Wilson Quarterly, Sarah L. Courteau commented that the "dutiful history has some dry stretches," but she maintained that "the struggle to desegregate public pools … makes for compelling reading." A Publishers Weekly writer also highlighted the compelling nature of Wiltse's discussion of segregation and summarized the book as "well done, clearly written, thoroughly researched history." "I don't know how to convey the sweep of the social history of this book, or its emotional color," Cavett related, but he concluded that when he finished Contested Waters, "I felt I'd had a good course in America."



American Historical Review, February, 2008, Victoria W. Wolcott, review of Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America, p. 214.

Atlantic Monthly, September, 2007, review of Contested Waters, p. 130.

Choice, February, 2008, J. Borchert, review of Contested Waters, p. 1015.

Economist, May 12, 2007, "At the Deep End: Swimming Pools," p. 91.

Journal of American History, December, 2007, Ed Krzemienski, review of Contested Waters, p. 993.

New Yorker, July 2, 2007, review of Contested Waters, p. 73.

New York Times Book Review, June 3, 2007, Dick Cavett, "The Swimmers," p. 18.

Publishers Weekly, January 22, 2007, review of Contested Waters, p. 175.

Washington Post Book World, May 6, 2007, John L. Jackson, Jr., "The Deep End," p. 8.

Wilson Quarterly, spring, 2007, Sarah L. Courteau, "Wading into Trouble," p. 93.


All Things Considered,http://www.npr.org/ (May 26, 2007), Jacki Lyden, "Plunging into Public Pools' Contentious Past," interview with Jeff Wiltse.

Aquatics International,http://www.aquaticsintl.com/ (May, 2008), review of Contested Waters.

Bryant Park Project,http://www.npr.org/ (May 6, 2007), Alison Stewart, "Racial History of American Swimming Pools," interview with Jeff Wiltse.

Jeff Wiltse Home Page,http://www.cas.umt.edu/history/books/wiltse.htm (June, 2008).

On Point,http://www.onpointradio.org/ (June 22, 2007), Tom Ashbrook, "Pools in America," interview with Jeff Wiltse.

Tell Me More,http://www.npr.org/ (May 28, 2007), Michel Martin, "Public Swimming Pools' Divisive Past," interview with Jeff Wiltse.

University of North Carolina Press,http://www.uncpress.unc.edu/ (spring, 2007), "Author Q & A," interview with Jeff Wiltse.