IWD 2023: Women As Wet-Bobs

An intriguing old Cambridge University Boat Club sign currently held by the River and Rowing Museum in Henley. 

8 March 2023

By Tim Koch

On today’s International Women’s Day, Tim Koch delivers another blow to the patriarchy by posting some historic pictures of women afloat. 

Margaret Pike on “Women as Wet-Bobs”, a magazine article giving the state of women’s rowing in 1929.
The GDR Women’s Olympic rowing squad for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Coach Jurgen Grobler stands in the bottom right. Whatever else there were shortages of in the old East Germany, it seems that there was no lack of hair.
1893: A report on a ladies eight that could “swing admirably together and never feather under water… the only point of marvel is that they can be induced to take the time from their stroke, most ladies showing remarkable independence in this matter.”
A picture from @nlroei.
Bad news from 1925.
In August 1933 and 1934, women from La Ruche Sportive women’s rowing club, Paris, competed against Weybridge Ladies at the Seamen’s Hospital Regatta, Greenwich.
“For rowing and all athletic exercises (Pongee Corsets) have no equal.”
“Undergraduette” rowing, 1930.
The 1980 Rowing Club (from bow, Peggy McCarthy, Carol Brown, Carie Graves, Liz Hills) was made up of members of that year’s United States Olympic squad. They won Henley’s 1981 invitation event for women’s coxed fours, the first time that women had been allowed to row at the regatta in its then 142 years. 
1871: A report on strange happenings by “respectable girls” at the Empire City Rowing Club Regatta, Harlem, New York.
The Ladies’ Double Sculls at Harlem in 1871. Thomas E. Weil Collection.
As if women rowing was not enough, by 1933 the ladies also wanted to wear trousers.
Interesting kit c.1900.
More kit, 1909.
Linda Clark, Gillian Webb, Clare Grove, Beryl Mitchell and Pauline Wright (cox) in training for the 1975 World’s at Nottingham.
Rowing at Furnivall Sculling Club for Girls, 1907.
Winners of the ladies’ pair-oar race, Ngaruawahia Regatta, New Zealand, 1900 and 1901. Picture: Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19010329-10-2.
A boat at the opening ceremony of the Long Beach Rowing Course, California, 1932. Fortunately, when the same course is used for the 2028 Olympics, women’s rowing will be more about power than posies.


  1. Thank you so much HTBS and Tim for a wonderful and absorbing start to
    International Women’s Day. A fantastic piece of research.

    Perhaps(?) one day there will be no need to have a ‘Women’s day’ !


  2. Thank you for this exemplary source material collection on women’s rowing, Tim!

    As an English Lit and Language graduate, I am particularly intrigued by Kate A. Lock’s 1907 article, which made me aware of the rich history of the Furnivall Boat Club and its literary connection. She mentions dramatist George Bernard Shaw as a sponsor of two boats. And, as HTBS has covered before, the eponymous Dr. Frederick James Furnivall is one of the creators of the Oxford English Dictionary and founded many literary societies.

    I wonder, however, do the article and the rather risqué photo of the author in a swim suit – by sports and war photographer Reinhold Thiele – suggest ulterior motifs? Or am I just being prudish? When Furnivall was 58, he separated from his wife Eleanor (about 13 years younger than him) to continue a relationship with 21-year-old Shakespeare editor Teena Rochfort-Smith. Two months later Rochfort-Smith suffered serious burns while burning correspondence and died. I am getting carried away …

    Here are some relevant sources:

  3. Might you know the source of the ad for the Royal Worcester Corset Co.’s “608” Pongee Corset so I can try to track it down to use in my research on 19th century women’s rowing?

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