From Ridicule to Respect: Some Images of Women’s Rowing

Pic 1. A picture from the Codex Manesse which was produced between 1310 and 1340. It is intriguingly titled Lord Niune rowing with his mistress (though I presume that it is his manservant and her maid that are doing the actual rowing). They are using what at first look like paddles, but they must be oars as they are in rowlocks of some kind, possibly made of rope. Is this the earliest representation a woman rowing?
A picture from the Codex Manesse which was produced between 1310 and 1340. It is intriguingly titled Lord Niune rowing with his mistress (though I presume that it is his manservant and her maid that are doing the actual rowing). They are using what at first look like paddles, but they must be oars as they are in rowlocks of some kind, possibly made of rope. Is this the earliest representation a woman rowing?

Tim Koch writes:

As a post from the River and Rowing Museum (RRM) in Henley said last month, the general theme of this year’s Rowing History Forum at the RRM is ‘Women Come of Age in Rowing’, ‘this in the year when Oxford and Cambridge’s Women’s Boat Race took to the Tideway alongside the men and when rowing faces the challenge of the International Olympic Committee’s aim of gender equality by 2020’.

To reiterate, the keynote speakers at the forum on Saturday, 21 November are:

Annamarie Phelps, Chair of British Rowing, will speak on Women’s Rowing – From Assisted Drifting to Driving Force.

Thomas E. Weil, rowing historian, will unveil the Forgotten 19th Century Trailblazers of Women’s Rowing.

Mike Sweeney, Chairman of Henley Royal Regatta from 1993 – 2015. Mike’s talk will be on the theme Henley Royal Regatta never changes! After his quarter of a century in the chair overseeing more events for women, electing more female Stewards and introducing the Royal regatta to the world of YouTube.

Peter Mallory, author of The Sport of Rowing, will examine Early Women’s Rowing on the American Frontier, touching on the impact of the Pocock boat-building family’s move from Eton to Seattle.

Miriam Batten, chair of Henley Women’s Regatta and Olympic medal winning rower, will compare the event.

A report on the forum will follow. In the meantime, and as a ‘curtain raiser’ to the event, here are some fairly random historical images of women’s rowing, some from the ‘Hear The Boat Sing’ archives, some new to this site. Enjoy!

The HTBS post for International Women’s Day 2015 suggested that women’s rowing had been through three stages:

Pic 2. 1) Restricted.
1) Restricted.

 

Pic 3. 2) Ridiculed.
2) Ridiculed.

 

Pic 4. 3) Respected.
3) Respected.

The 2014 International Women’s Day post for 2014 published the picture below to remind us as to why a few changes were/are needed:

Pic 5. The cover of Rowing magazine for December 1960. The picture is fine – but read the caption (click to enlarge). To be fair to the magazine’s publishers, this was a perfectly normal attitude for the time.
The cover of Rowing magazine for December 1960. The picture is fine – but read the caption (click to enlarge). To be fair to the magazine’s publishers, this was a perfectly normal attitude for the time.

The picture below inspired a piece on Tom Green’s Boathouse in Barnes, West London, for many years a welcoming place for women’s rowing.

Pic 6. Women about to go rowing from Tom Green’s during the 1939-1945 War. They are carrying gas masks in individually decorated cases.
Women about to go rowing from Tom Green’s during the 1939-1945 War. They are carrying gas masks in individually decorated cases.

 

Pic 7. Women at Tom Green’s in the 1930s. Picture: River and Rowing Museum.
Women at Tom Green’s in the 1930s. Picture: River and Rowing Museum.

Three of the pioneers of women’s rowing are remembered in the trio of pictures below. No doubt many other such women have been forgotten.

Pic 8. Outside Tom Green’s. Those wearing the ‘club’ symbol are from the Ace Rowing Club of Barnes and the others are from Weybridge Ladies Amateur Rowing Club.
Outside Tom Green’s. Those wearing the ‘club’ symbol are from the Ace Rowing Club of Barnes and the others are from Weybridge Ladies Amateur Rowing Club.

 

Possibly the above picture shows some of the women who took part in the first Women’s Head of the River Race in 1927, an event that had only two crews competing. I think that the woman standing second from the right is Amy Gentry, a famous advocate of women’s rowing from the 1920s until her death in 1976. In 1969, she was awarded the OBE for services to rowing.

Pic 9. Margaret Barff who, along with Amy Gentry, was another early promoter of women’s rowing.
Margaret Barff who, along with Amy Gentry, was another early promoter of women’s rowing.

Barff started rowing in the early 1920s with the Ace but by 1927 she was a founder member of Alpha Women’s Rowing Club. She won the Women’s Amateur Sculling Championships many times, some film of which is here. In the early 1930s, she was diagnosed with a heart condition and gave up racing but continued to coach and contribute to the women’s rowing scene for many years.

Pic 10. Phoebe Radly on the River Lea, c.1913.
Phoebe Radly on the River Lea, c.1913.

In July, Clive Radley, author of The Radleys of the Lea, wrote about his Great-Aunt Phoebe Radley who he said was ‘a forgotten pioneer of women’s competitive rowing’.

Pic 11. Women at Furnivall Sculling Club, 1924.
Women at Furnivall Sculling Club, 1924.

What is today Furnivall Sculling Club was founded in 1896 by Dr. Frederick Furnivall as the Hammersmith Sculling Club for Girls. Membership was extended to men in 1901 and the name was changed to Furnivall Sculling Club for Girls and Men. To safeguard the original ethos, it was ruled that the captain had to be a woman and that women should always be a majority on the club committee. The ‘girls’ did not have it all their own way – in the early years they had to leave the club once they were married, presumably to stop their rowing and sculling interfering with their ‘wifely duties’. A short history of Furnivall SC with some splendid pictures is on furnivall.org.   Film, possibly including Furnivall, of ‘the Ladies Fours’ competing at Hammersmith Regatta in 1922 is online. The opening caption jokingly asks ‘Will the Ladies invade Henley?’

Pic 12. A scene from the Women’s Amateur Rowing Association Regatta at Putney in 1931. On the right are Bossy Phelps, famous coach and boatbuilder, and Jack Beresford Jr, Britain’s most successful oarsman of the pre-Redgrave era. Very nice film of this event is on the British Pathé site here. http://www.britishpathe.com/video/rowing-eves
A scene from the Women’s Amateur Rowing Association Regatta at Putney in 1931. On the right are Bossy Phelps, famous coach and boatbuilder, and Jack Beresford Jr, Britain’s most successful oarsman of the pre-Redgrave era. Very nice film of this event is on the British Pathé site here.

 

Pic 13. The Aberystwyth University Ladies Rowing Group, 1916. Despite their genteel name, this looks like a serious crew and I would love to know more about ‘ladies rowing’ at Aberystwyth.
The Aberystwyth University Ladies Rowing Group, 1916. Despite their genteel name, this looks like a serious crew and I would love to know more about ‘ladies rowing’ at Aberystwyth.

 

Pic 14. The Ladies Rowing Group pictured on the beach at Aberystwyth. I suspect that this picture predates the one above. The University was a pioneer in women’s higher education, first admitting female undergraduates in 1884. https://www.aber.ac.uk/en/is/news/2013/women-day/
The Ladies Rowing Group pictured on the beach at Aberystwyth. I suspect that this picture predates the one above. The University was a pioneer in women’s higher education, first admitting female undergraduates in 1884.

Some images from outside of the UK:

Pic 15. A Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) crew rowing out of Gardner’s Boathouse, Sydney, Australia. It is difficult to date, but I would guess that it is from the 1930s or 1940s.
A Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) crew rowing out of Gardner’s Boathouse, Sydney, Australia. It is difficult to date, but I would guess that it is from the 1930s or 1940s.

 

Pic 16. Another YWCA crew outside Gardener’s.
Another YWCA crew outside Gardener’s.

 

Pic 17. A wonderful (if frustratingly small) picture from the Australian Rowing History site. http://www.rowinghistory-aus.info/rowing-associations/rowing-australia/02-womens-council.html It is dated 1901 and shows Cassie McRitchie in the scull she used to win the Inaugural Women’s Interstate Sculling Race. Did she race in that hat?
A wonderful (if frustratingly small) picture from the Australian Rowing History site. It is dated 1901 and shows Cassie McRitchie in the scull she used to win the Inaugural Women’s Interstate Sculling Race. Did she race in that hat?

 

Pic 18. The Class of ’91 is, presumably, an American college crew.
The Class of ’91 is, presumably, an American college crew.

 

Pic 19. 1905: A University of Washington student in her rowing uniform. There is a history of women’s rowing at UW on the husheycrew.com site.http://www.huskycrew.com/washington_rowing_history.htm I initially dismissed the drawing as a rather silly representation, typical of the period. However, on closer inspection you can see that this is a serious rower. There is determination in her eyes and muscle in her arms and legs. I think that she would be rather pleased to see the state of women’s rowing 110 years later.
1905: A University of Washington student in her rowing uniform. There is a history of women’s rowing at UW on the huskycrew site. I initially dismissed the drawing as a rather silly representation, typical of the period. However, on closer inspection you can see that this is a serious rower. There is determination in her eyes and muscle in her arms and legs. I think that she would be rather pleased to see the state of women’s rowing 110 years later.

Tickets for the history forum at the RRM on 21 November 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 events@rrm.co.uk.

7 comments

  1. Some very nice pictures of a bygone era.

    I wonder how well did the class of 91 row in such long skirts.

    Good of you to mention my Great Aunt Phoebe. She founded a skiff club for women just before WW1 on the Lea in NE London and started Cecil Ladies Rowing Club soon after the war finished. Cecil Ladies rowed competivelly in eights , fours etc.

    By 1918 she was 42 years old and I think she probably organised things rather than rowing herself although she may have coxed.

    Phoebe or one of her friends may have had contacts in the National Press because they received a great deal of press attention. Some this was odd by current standards eg one article stated that the crew carried their boat themselves from the boathouse to the river. Women rowing competivelly in 8s etc was still a novelty then.

  2. Here’s a video of women from Newry RC racing at Dublin Metropolitan Regatta in 1926. They are boating from Dublin University Boat Club and the flow on the Liffey is quite strong owing to the proximity of the weir just opposite the slip:

    The 1920s was a tough time in Ireland, so we shouldn’t compare their rowing kit to that of the fashionable women at Furnivall Sculling Club (above) photographed in 1924.

  3. My mother, Hilda Spinks, won the Cecil Ladies’ Rowing Club championship in 1925 – she was described as a “Winsome Winner” in the newspapers of the time. I’ve just discovered a YouTube film clip of her as part of the crew in the first ladies’ regatta held at Clapham in 1925.

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