New Website Celebrating GB Women’s International Rowing

20 June 2017

Recently, the internet has been graced with a new website on the history of GB women’s international rowing, RowingStory.com. From now on, you will find a link to the website under “Good Rowing Links” on the right of this page. HTBS asked Helena Smalman-Smith, creator of RowingStory.com, to present her website for HTBS’s readers. Helena writes:

Helena Smalman-Smith.

We rowers really love rowing, don’t we? In fact, we’re passionate about it, obsessed and consumed by it. Many of us shape our careers so that we can participate in it in one way or another. We tend to find our life partners from within its community and talk about it all the time. But we’re often far too busy with all this to know our own history. And that’s a shame for several reasons.

Firstly, it’s just plain cracking interesting, especially in contrast to today’s experience of rowing.

Secondly, we only are where we are today because of the path that has been cut by those who have gone before. It’s good that with literally only the odd exception (in my view, balanced by opportunities available only to women) that today’s young women rowers are equal members of their clubs, can race at any regatta including the Olympics and are taken as seriously as athletes as men. But I think we should also be aware that it wasn’t always like this and know who the pioneers of women’s rowing were and what they did to get us to today’s situation – and these women seem to have had a tremendous amount of fun in the process, I’m glad to say.

Thirdly, rowing has actually been through many of the challenges it currently faces before, and has tried many of today’s ‘new’ initiatives. Generally, it’s worth learning the lessons of history.

This bronze medal belongs to Barbara Kaye (née Benzing), who won it at the first Women’s European Rowing Championships in 1954 in the coxed four. The only other medal that GB won in the 20 years of the early Women’s European Rowing Championships was Penny Chuter’s silver in the single sculls in 1962, which is much better known than that of the four, who were members of Stuart Ladies RC on the River Lea. It would take 36 years for GB women to take the next medal in sweep rowing at an International Championships. Miriam Batten and Fiona Freckleton won a bronze at the World Championships in the coxless pair in 1991.

I have just launched a new website called RowingStory.com to help with this, specifically the history of GB women’s international rowing. It has been said that the story of GB women’s international rowing is a hidden history. But I disagree. It certainly hasn’t much been collated, and my website does publish a large number of competitors’ memories and information from their personal training diaries for the first time, but a lot of the material it draws on has long been widely available – most of what I’ve done is pull it all together in an easily accessible place.

The site currently follows the path of GB women’s international rowing from the first Women’s European Rowing Championships in 1954 up to 1976. Accounts of more recent years are ‘work in progress’.

I hope you will enjoy reading it!

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