The River & Rowing Museum in Henley-on-Thames reports:
‘Rocking the Boat: Women in Rowing’ is the title of this year’s Rowing History Forum at the River & Rowing Museum to be held 10am – 4pm on Saturday 21 November. Speakers include Annamarie Phelps (Chair of British Rowing), Mike Sweeney (ex-Chair of Henley Royal Regatta), Thomas E. Weil (rowing historian and contributor to this site) and Peter Mallory (author of The Story of Rowing).
Annamarie Phelps will be giving the inspiringly titled talk ‘From Assisted Drifting to Driving Force’, while Mike Sweeney will look back at his 25 years as Chair of Henley Royal Regatta and how it was brought into the 21st century including the introduction of women stewards and women’s races. Both Thomas E. Weil and Peter Mallory will be looking back a little further to the 19th century and some of the early pioneers of women’s competitive rowing.
A number of events came together serendipitously to make this the perfect opportunity to take a look at where women’s rowing is today and how it got there. Firstly, the ongoing success of GB women rowers since their glorious victories at London 2012 (can you detect any bias!). Secondly, the Women’s Boat Race moved to the same date and location as the men’s race in March 2015.
Finally, and very excitingly, the Museum has just been awarded funding as part of a consortium of sporting museums to support a PhD in the history of women’s rowing. We have just put out a call for higher education institutions to act as partners. The women’s rowing collection of the Museum has grown significantly over the past few year, thanks in big part to the exhibition we held in 2011 called ‘Rowing the Boat’. The exhibition celebrated some of the pioneering oarswomen who helped to establish women’s rowing as a competitive sport, including Amy Gentry, Eleanor Lester, Anita DeFrantz and Penny Chuter. In response, we received archives of material from the family of Eleanor Lester and from Christine Dugdale, the last secretary of the University Women’s Rowing Association.
It also led to the donation of the extraordinary collection relating to Lucy Pocock, winner of the World Women’s Sculling Championship in 1912, from her great-granddaughter Heidi Danilchik.
We also heard some great stories.
Penny Chuter told us about travelling to East Germany by herself as a 19-year-old. She struggled to fit her oars in a taxi and the American soldiers at Checkpoint Charlie would not let her cross into East Germany. Eventually she walked through without them stopping her. After being held up for four hours, she arrived at the regatta in Grünau, outside Berlin, raced just one hour later and won.
The family of Eleanor Lester (née Gait) provided the story of Amy Gentry’s missed opportunity to compete in Australia in 1938 with the first England women’s crew. The women, including Eleanor, were selected by WARA and had to pay their own way while relying on sympathetic employers to allow them time off work, as the boat trip alone took 6 weeks. Amy, who was secretary to the inventor of the bouncing bomb Barnes Wallis, was denied leave and so couldn’t go. As a teetotaller she may have disapproved of the crews association with a famous brand of Australian lager while they were there.
If you would like to come and hear more fascinating stories about women in the sport tickets cost £30 and include a buffet lunch. Please call 01491 415600 to book. More details can be found on the museum’s website www.rrm.co.uk. A pre-forum dinner with speaker Thomas E. Weil will take place at the River & Rowing Museum on 20 November. Tickets are £55 and includes a three course meal and a glass of prosecco on arrival. Tickets can be purchased via phone on 01491 415 631 or email email@example.com.