Pulling Against the Stream: Historic Images of Women’s Rowing

‘Hot waxing a blade’, a scene at Sydney Women’s Rowing Club, c. 1930 – 1935. The club, still going strong, was established in 1910. A short history is here.

8 March 2018

Tim Koch tries to make amends.

The website internationalwomensday.com tells us:

March 8, International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. International Women’s Day…. is not country, group or organisation specific.

Here at Hear The Boat Sing, however, we are fairly ‘group specific’ and, for a few years, I have marked IWD with images of women’s rowing through the ages. I can understand if some people regard this as tokenism. It is difficult to argue against this, my posts do seem to be more often about men’s rowing than women’s. My only excuse is that HTBS is primarily concerned with history and often writes about times, not too long ago, when women were widely thought to belong in the home of their father or their husband – not in a rowing boat. Even when women did manage to take to the water, their activities would most likely go unrecorded. In a probably unsuccessful attempt to make amends, this post is a chronological (if random) collection of images of women’s rowing. Not all are positive, but they are part of history and should not be ignored. At the risk of briefly overcompensating, two more posts inspired by International Women’s Day will follow, one tomorrow and one the day after.

Circa 1310 – 1340: ‘Lord Niune rowing with his mistress’. I presume that it is his manservant and her maid that are doing the actual rowing. The oars are in rowlocks of some kind, so they are not paddles. I hold that this is the earliest representation of a woman rowing.
1866: A hilarious idea from “Punch” – an Oxford v Cambridge Boat Race for women.
1871: A very positive image from the Empire City Rowing Club Regatta on the Harlem River in New York – the Ladies’ Double Scull Race. There is also a record of Amelia Shean winning the women’s singles race at that regatta.
1880s: Mrs John (sic) Cagg of Troy, New York. I suspect the oar is more than a studio prop, the impression is that Mrs Cagg knows what to do with it.
1890s: The Aberystwyth University Ladies Rowing Group. The Group was still going in 1916 at least. The University was a pioneer in women’s higher education, first admitting female undergraduates in 1884.
1904: The ZLAC Rowing Club of San Diego, California. ZLAC is still going today and its website claims that it is the world’s oldest rowing club for women (Britain’s Hammersmith Sculling Club – later Furnivall SC – was founded for women in 1896, but became mixed in 1901).
Circa 1906: A strange American postcard. The crew seem to be women, but they are very skimpily dressed for 1906.
1910: Women in a rowing tank at Syracuse University, New York. Clearly, these were serious training oarswomen, not fine weather leisure rowers.
1912: Women’s rowing pioneer, Lucy Pocock, pictured in a silver frame that she won as a prize at Henley Town and Visitor’s Regatta.
1913: The Wellesley Crew. The first collegiate rowing programme for women was established at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, in 1875.
1920s: An unidentified crew at Green’s Boathouse in Chiswick, West London.
1922: A South Australian crew that competed in the Ladies Inter-State Rowing Championship in Sydney.
1928: This looks promising: “The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News” devote a whole page to ‘Women in Sport’. What is Miss EW Clarke’s sporting achievement…? She is engaged to be married to a rowing Blue. Well done Eileen!
1930s: Sydney Women’s Rowing Club.
1930s: A cartoon supporting the idea that women’s rowing was not serious rowing.
1941: The Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club, founded in 1938 by Ernestine Bayer, regarded in the U.S. as ‘the mother of women’s rowing’.
1959: A good example for girls (though thumbs on the end of the handles would have been better).
1966: Soviet women at the European Rowing Championships in Amsterdam.
1975: The boys at “Rowing” magazine presumably thought that this was ‘a bit of harmless fun’.
1976, March 3: In the athletic department offices at Yale University, Chris Ernst reads a statement that the university was ignoring the equal rights in educational programs legislation (known as Title IX) in not providing showers for women at the Yale boathouse. The action raised awareness of gender inequity in U.S. college sports and meant that Title IX could no longer be ignored.
1977: The Oxford Women’s Blue Boat.
1986: A stamp of approval.
2012: Egyptian rowers Fatma Rashed and Sara Mohamed at the London Olympics.
2015: Western RC of Canada, winners of the Remenham Cup at Henley Royal Regatta.
2018: The Captain of Leander Club, Vicky Thornley – not a gentleman of the old school.


  1. What about the 1982 Henley Royal Regatta……with womens racing over 1000 meters…..Beryyl Crockford won the womens 1x event and Boston Universtiy won the womens 4+ event. In the BU crew was rower and team organiser Betsy Marden, sister of Anne Marden , Beryl’s fellow Olympic sculler. Anne and Betsy’s Uncle, Charles Lund, was stroke of the Harvard JV Crew that won the Grand at Henley in 1914.

  2. Anne,

    Thank you for your input but, as stated, ‘this post is a chronological (if random) collection of images of women’s rowing’, it is clearly not an attempt at a comprehensive history. Beryl was included in my post on IWD 2017.


  3. Thank you for including the Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club and Ernestine Bayer. I used to race in The Three Bayers when I was in high school! Those founding women of PGRC were our heroes and we were privileged to have them visit from time to time.

    Our HS eight beat ZLAC, also mentioned in your article, to win the national championship in 1978. Fun memories – thank you!

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