By Abigail Jade Koerner
Every October, the Boston area becomes a haven for rowers from around the world, of all ages, to gather, race, and celebrate rowing. Today, rowing is available to both men and women. However, on Harvard’s campus, rowing was not always as inclusive.
Rowing was the first popular intercollegiate sport. In the 1840s, Harvard men’s rowing was established and in 1852, the first Harvard-Yale Regatta, and first intercollegiate competition ever, was held. Centuries later, in 1972, Radcliffe rowing was established as the first women’s rowing program in the Ivy League.
As the institution of Radcliffe rowing grew and flourished, issues of gender discrimination surfaced as men’s coaches would not allow Radcliffe women to use their equipment. Women were givenshorter racing distances, less racing opportunities, and faced cruel commentary by male rowers on campus for their participation in the sport.
Still, Radcliffe rowers persevered. Soon, women’s rowing at Harvard ventured past recreational sculling to form distinct and successful teams. Weld boathouse became a sanctuary for Radcliffe women as the lightweight and heavyweight teams developed under female coaches including Carrie Graves. Radcliffe alum and former coach of the lightweight team, Cecile Tucker, described the transition in Radcliffe rowing towards female leadership that allowed the team to flourish. She writes that, “… beginning with the appointment of Carrie Graves in 1978, Radcliffe had women as coaches and models, women who were exceptional rowers. Weld must have offered a respite from the sexual politics that female students and rowers faced inside and outside of the classroom in the 70’s and 80’s — a nurturing environment for women’s rowing to grow and thrive.”
When Radcliffe college became a part of Harvard University, the women’s team chose to maintain the Radcliffe name. Today, both the Harvard-Radcliffe Varsity Heavyweight women’s team (RVH) and the Harvard-Radcliffe Varsity Lightweight team (RVL) operate out of Weld Boathouse at the corner of John F. Kennedy Street and Memorial Drive. The women’s rowing teams train exclusively out of Weld boathouse while the men’s teams train across the river at Newell boathouse.
The old mindset and energy to prove oneself on the water in a world where female athletes are reprimanded for the work they do each day remains central to the culture of Weld boathouse.
Abigail Koerner ([email protected]) looks forward to the Head of the Charles after looking back at the history of the Weld boathouse.