The following is from an article found in Revista da Semana. You can find the original Portuguese version at the bottom.
Our beautiful beaches are uncomparible for sea bathing. Historical records say that the Tamoios, after fishing, would bathe themselves on the beaches of Uruçumirim (Glória). The city now conquered by the Portuguese, the governors and then the viceroys would never resist the delights of a sea bath and they’d spend hours on end on the beach in Santa Luzia enjoying the pleasures it produced. With the city transferred from Castello hill to the neighborhood of Misericórdia and with the improved D. Manoel beach, this was the preferred beach by all for bathing, seen as shallow and, as a result, it offerred less danger for those that didn’t know how to swim. As the city was developed, Boqueirão lagoon was landfilled and on it the Passeio Público was created, with the Boqueirão do Passeio beach popping up nearby, becoming the most sought after for bathing. At that time was only for men, since no one would concede that a lady, without breaking the line of distinction or the moral rules, could leap from their little chair and throw themselves into the water, even though it was scortching hot. Aside from Boqueirão, for years on end Cariocas would make use of the beaches of Retiro Saudoso, Cajú, S. Cristovão, Santo Christo, Sacco do Alferes, Gambôa, Saúde and Santa Luzia.
With the city habits entirely modified by the arrival of D. João VI in 1808, he himself showed a desire to make use of the sea baths and ordered a beach house to be built for this purpose on the Cajú beach, and with it, a contraption that consisted of a large box he could get into and swim in. Before getting into the water, it was blessed and, at the moment he bathed, the Viscount of Magé, who was the only one from the palace that the king admired for his religious fervor, was obliged to recite a specific prayer from the book of hours (a Christian devotional book from the Middle Ages). The king also liked to sea bathe at the Ilha do Governador, where he would sometimes spend short amounts of time, accommodating himself in a house that was offerred to him by Benedictine monks. There is no reference found regarding D. Carlota Joaquina’s sea bathing. Mucio Teixeira, in the novel he is publishing in the Jornal do Brasil – “O negro da Quinta Imperial” – asserts that she didn’t like to bathe.
D. João VI and his family having left Brazil in 1821, Pedro I placed the Marquess of Santos in a house on his property on Botafogo beach, which at the time had very few houses, and there she sea bathed. When the magistrate Aragão was police superintendent, in 1825, he recommended to the authorities that they not permit slaves to bathe on the beaches of Gambôa, without being clothed, under threat their owners would be held accountable. In the same year, a great lover of the beauty of our beaches wrote to the Diário do Rio de Janeiro asking the same superintendent to not allow them to throw buckets of squalid material there .
José Bonifacio preferred to sea bathe on the beaches of Paquetá island and Icaraí, where he lived for some time. During the Regency the population continued to frequent the Boqueirão beach which little by little was becoming more popular to the point that women were making use of it. Some bathers would take small tents with them to undress in. A few years later, someone got the idea to build a sort of large tent there, with rooms and clothes to rent to bathers. The idea didn’t seem all that bad thus an imitator later appeared. He announced that he had staff who would take the ladies a little further from the beach where they could apparently bathe in cleaner water. Later a person showed up selling coffee and bread, all of this in the time of the illustrious Camara Municipal, which didn’t prevent the acivity for those who wanted to work. But with the increase in bathers came a lack of order, until the time when Dr. Tito de Mattos, chief of police, sent half a dozen police there who, following orders, forced the men to bathe seperately from the women. One of the bathing houses then put up a rope, that served to separate them. Deaths there weren’t infrequent at the Boqueirão beach due to the imprudence of many bathers who, not knowing how to swim, would go far out into the water, not being able to return. After the rustic sea bathing establishments on the Boqueirão beach, others appeared on Flamengo beach, the first of them named “Banhos de Mar Flamengo”, situated on Dois de Dezembro street, on the corner of Buarque de Macedo. Each bath cost 200 rs. After that one, another opened up, a little in front of it, called “High-Life“. It had 124 rooms and it was preferred by high society families of the time. On the beach, there were places set up for men and for women, also separated by a rope, like at Boqueirão do Passeio. The women would bring pants that went down to their feet, tied by a string. They didn’t go around barefoot like today, and the gown was long so as not to be able to discern the shape of the body. Baths started at 6 and ended at 8AM.
In 1875 a campaign was organized called Salubrity, which was inaugurated on November 30th with a sea bathing boat anchored in front of the Pharoux. The novelty didn’t last long. But a real seaside city was reserved for Cariocas, a few minutes from the commercial downtown. In 1891 the Companhia Ferro Carril Jardim Botanico took their trolleys to Copacabana and the coastal city started to be born. Large tracts of land found there in abandon started to be sold, the streets started to be realigned, stately homes were build and later, luxurious homes, and little by little Copacabana beach, up until then deserted, transformed itself into one of the most beautiful cities for bathing in the world. King Albert of Belgium when he visited us, just after disembarking, couldn’t resist the desire to enjoy the delight that a bath at these wonderful places provided. After the seaside city was done being built, from Leme to Leblon, other bathing establishments cropped up, the main one being in Urca. But it can be said that we still don’t have a model establishment for sea bathing. In 1891 a luxury one was planned for Boqueirão do Passeio, but the concessionaires let the concession expire.
Boqueirão beach being landfilled, the prettiest beaches for bathing were far from the heart of the city so that only residents of Catete, Flamengo, Botafogo and Copacabana were allowed the pleasure of sea bathing, which isn’t right. But the time will surely come when a great seaside place will be build in front of the Passeio Publico and residents of this side of the city will be able to also enjoy the pleasures of sea bathing.
“The entrance to the bathing beach will be allowed to everyone except:
a) People of both sexes whose clothes are too short or are ripped or coming apart.
b) Men who are wearing what’s known as “macacão” (onsie), with white pants or shirts, except if they’re wool or flannel.
c) Men who show up with a shirt tucked into their pants, with silk or cotton tights or that did not bring a robe or cap.
Those that drove an automobile or any other vehicle can do without a robe. In no way will it be allowed the use of a towel, even a large one, to complement the bathing suit. Dogs and other animals can only be bathed half hour before policing ends. The guards will employ all their force so that bathers wear their robes upon leaving their bath.
Police station 6, on 24 September 1926. Delegate Francisco Christovão Cardoso”