Gymnosophy (from Greek γυμνός gymnós "naked" and σοφία sophía "wisdom") was a movement and a philosophy practiced in Europe and the US from the end of the 19th century to the mid 20th century. The practice involved nudity, asceticism, and meditation.
In the early 20th century, the term was appropriated by several groups to denote a broad philosophy that included as a central thought that the nude human body is a natural condition and should be widely acceptable for the betterment of society. This philosophy is related closely, and often interchangeably, with nudism and naturism, and has close connection to the hippie movement.
The movement is known by mainly three organisations: the English Gymnosophical Society, Société Internationale de Gymnosophie, and the American Gymnosophical Association. In 1919, the Yoga teacher Blanche DeVries opened a Yoga Gymnosophy Institute in New York that combined Oriental Dance and Yoga. The English Gymnosophical Society was founded in 1922 and became The New Gymnosophy Society in 1926. One of the first members was Gerald Gardner, who in 1945 established the Five Acres Club, ostensibly as a nudist club, but as a front for Wiccans, as this was illegal in England until 1951. The Societe Internationale de Gymnosophie was founded in 1926 in France.
Dr. Maurice Parmelee (1882-1969), professor of sociology at the City College of New York, wrote from 1923 to 1924 a book, The New Gymnosophy, the title was changed to Nudism In Modern Life in later editions. He took part in the founding of the American Gymnosophical Association 1930.
In 1932, Rochester Gymnosophy League was founded in Bushnell's Basin. In 1933 the Dunedin Gymnosophy Club was founded in New Zealand. The biochemist and historian Joseph Needham was known to practice gymnosophy.
In the last decade, the word gymnosophy has begun to be used as a term for a new, more spiritual and holistic, free body culture.
The word "gymnosophy" in literature
In the novel Don Quixote: "... in defiance and in spite of envy itself, and all the magicians that Persia, or Brahmans that India, or Gymnosophists that Ethiopia ever produced ..."
- Hippie Roots & The Perennial Subculture, 2003. Archived 2016-10-24 at the Wayback Machine
- "Kalifornication". Frieze. 2013. Archived from the original on 2015-07-02. Retrieved 2013-08-01.
- Parmelee, Maurice (1927). The new gymnosophy: the philosophy of nudity as applied in modern life. New York: F. H. Hitchcock.
- Parmelee, Maurice (2013). Nudism in Modern Life. Read Books Limited. ISBN 978-1-4733-8770-6.
- Parmelee, Maurice, Adventures in Many Lands an Autobiographical Memoir, New Haven, Connecticut: Unpublished manuscript, Parmalee Papers, Mnuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library
- Poray, Bill (11 August 2016). "The Naked Truth about Bushnell's Basin" (PDF). Fairport-ER Post. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
- "A Nudist Club formed in Dunedin – Police Approval?". Wellington Evening Post. 24 November 1933. p. 5. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
- "Joseph Needham and Lu Gwei-Djen". The History of Chinese Science and Culture Foundation. n.d. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
- Carr-Gomm, Philip (12 November 2007). "Gymnosophy for Beginners". Retrieved 27 August 2018.