NWSC History

The National Water Safety Congress was organized on June 28, 1951 in Nashville, Tennessee in response to growing concerns over water deaths in the region of the Cumberland and Tennessee River Valleys. Blessed with large lakes and a bounty of recreational opportunities, the area saw many summer weekends where more people were drowned than were killed on the highways.

Alarmed citizens and safety leaders realized that there was no available organized avenue to address their concerns. Then, after eight members of one family drowned in the Calfkiller River, the Nashville Tennessean ran an editorial on May 22, 1951 forcefully demanding an action program to combat the loss of life in Tennessee as a result of drowning. That same day, a staff writer from the paper and a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Nat Caldwell, visited Colonel Henry Walsh, District Engineer of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Nashville District. They discussed the need for an organized attack on the water safety problem.

Colonel Walsh called upon the US Coast Guard, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the American National Red Cross, and the Governor of Tennessee to help him set up an area wide meeting to promote water safety in the states of Tennessee and Kentucky. On the 19th of June 1951, representatives of those agencies, Colonel Walsh and members of his staff formed a temporary committee called the Water Safety Council of the Tennessee and Cumberland River Valleys. The committee announced that the first area-wide meeting for all persons interested in promoting water safety would be held at the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville on June 28, 1951.

This announcement led to the Nashville Tennessean and the Nashville Banner, two daily newspapers, providing one of the most effective media support campaigns ever given to a safety movement. Radio and television stations joined in. This excellent media support spread to other sections of the south.

On June 28, one hundred safety experts, public officials, and civic leaders assembled in the main dining room of the Hermitage Hotel with Colonel Walsh presiding. After talks by the Governor of Tennessee, Gordon Browning, Arnold Winkenhofer of the American National Red Cross in Atlanta, and Commander Clay Clifton from the Coast Guard, the Temporary Executive Committee proposed that a permanent organization be formed to continue the emphasis on water safety. The assembly appointed a board of directors and committees and elected the first President of the Cumberland and Tennessee River Valleys Water Safety Congress – Everett Derryberry, President of the Polytechnic Institute.

As participants and interest extended far beyond the Cumberland and Tennessee River Valleys, the organization changed its name in 1951 to the Water Safety Congress. By 1955 individual memberships represented 24 of the 48 States. In 1958 the name was again changed to The National Water Safety Congress.

Membership ranges from high public officials to private boaters. Primary effort is through the interests of businesses, state, public, and federal agencies. The purpose of the Congress is to promote the safe use of our water resources by every means available.