As the second decade of the twentieth century dawned, women’s rowing at the University of Washington seemed firmly established. Hiram Conibear was very much involved with the women's program and Gretchen O’Donnell continued to grow as an oarswoman, developing into an able assistant. Miss O’Donnell would prove to be a strong advocate and ambassador for the women’s crew, until she graduated in 1912.
In fact it was a series of strong-willed and dedicated women that would keep the program going - Lucy Pocock, Ethel Johnson, Helen Harrington - all with the solid, and at times outspoken, support from the student body (and Mr. Conibear). And although each year brought unique circumstances, by 1916 rowing at Washington was the most popular athletic activity for women on campus.
Unfortunately, in addition to the highs, this decade would bring some of the greatest lows. The program would go through several instructors and many changes, including an end to racing, a temporary total ban on women’s rowing, and the permanent adoption of form only contests. World War I would add uncertainty and turmoil. And, most tragically for the entire Washington rowing community, Hiram Boardman Conibear would not live to see the end of it.
It would ultimately be the last decade in which women would row at Washington for over 50 years.
Enrollment was now over 2,156 students strong, and the first big change to occur in the fall of 1909 was the loss of Lavina Rudberg, the women’s Gymnasium Director. Miss Rudberg was a vital advocate for women’s athletics, and had been instrumental in getting women’s crew sanctioned as an official sport in the autumn of 1907. There is no mention as to why Miss Rudberg left, just an article in UW Daily stating that Miss Jessie B. Merrick, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin, was the new Gymnasium Director and physical instructor of women. (UW Daily, October 25, 1909, University of Washington Catalogs, Special collections, 1909-1919)
In addition, The Daily Pacific Wave became The University of Washington Daily and was referred to as “The Daily”– the name that the newspaper would keep until the present day.
Hiram Conibear was still responsible for both the men’s and women’s crews and when his only daughter, Catherine, was born the newspaper joked that she might someday “enter Washington and cox the girls’ crew”. Connie was happy in the fall of 1909 and had a smile that “is apparently the kind that won’t wear off”. (UW Daily, December, 13, 1909, p. 1)
That fall, Conibear acquired the use of the Alaska Yukon Exposition Life-saving station for the men’s crew, and by January of 1910 was making plans for the men to travel to the University of Wisconsin for a race. (UW Daily, December 22, 1909, January 6, 1910) The women were in support of this venture and several added their voices in order to convince the faculty to allow the trip to take place. (UW Daily, January 6, 1910) Conibear would also work to acquire the Tokio Tea House from the Alaska Yukon Exposition (A.Y.E.) and worked to renovate it for the use of the crew. (UW Daily, January 25, 1910)
By mid January, Conibear felt that he didn’t have the time to devote to the women, and the women petitioned to have Gretchen O’Donnell (Class of 1912 and the stroke of the winning class crew in 1909) appointed “to serve as their tutor”. Miss O’Donnell took the helm as the Assistant Coach and Conibear remained the Head Coach. The women had access to the equipment and began rowing immediately after the coldest weather was over. There were still no other women’s crews in the area so the women would be organized once again into classes to compete against each other in both racing and form contests. (UW Daily, January 11, 1910) The student run Board of Control sanctioned the appointment and stated that –
“It is believed by members of the executive council that the rowing coach has all he can handle with the coaching of the men, and for this reason, it did not feel like asking him to undertake the instruction of the women as well. Miss O’Donnell has had considerable experience in rowing and is recognized as being among the best oarswomen in the university.” (UW Daily, January 14, 1910)
It is also at this time that the sportswomen (including the women on the crew) at the University became interested in acquiring an emblem (“W”) or pin to commemorate their athletic prowess. They proposed forming an athletic club which Dr. D.C. Hall and Miss Merrick supported. The Board of Control heard their proposal and suggested that the women could join with the ASUW instead of forming another organization. Dr. David C. Hall commented that –
“Our plan in forming such a club is to give recognition to the women who do good work in athletics. There is little to inspire one to get out and try for a team if there is not a goal for which to strive. If the board would rather attach our constitution (the proposed women’s athletic association) with that of the A. S. U. W., we will be getting what we want, minus the cares of running a separate club.” (UW Daily, January 17, 1910)
This was a big step in making things equal many decades before Title IX or gender equity. The Daily article capped the sentiment with the final paragraph –
“The step taken by Miss Merrick and Dr. Hall is a big boost for women’s athletics at Washington. Hereafter they will be on a par with the men as far as athletics are concerned. They will receive an emblem if they qualify in the finals of the games in hockey, baseball, basketball, tennis, rowing and handball.” (UW Daily, January 17, 1910)
In February, the Board of Control voted unanimously to give Washington “W’s” to women who were on three of the final teams in basketball, baseball, rowing, handball, tennis or hockey. Gretchen O’Donnell, Miss Merrick and Dr. Hall wrote a constitution for the Women’s Athletic Association. The Daily stated that
“Because of the fact that no intercollegiate contests could be arranged for the co-eds, it has hitherto been impossible for them to win their letter except in debate, where they were presented with the regulation gold barred “W.” The girls have felt that they were entitled to win their letters just as much as the men, and have been endeavoring to secure some recognition for several years.” (UW Daily, February 18, 1910)
Many women participated in several sports while attending the University, and did so in increasing numbers since it was now necessary for them to qualify for finals in more than one sport in order to win their “W”. In order to fulfill this requirement, Gretchen O’Donnell, Ada Etsell, and Sarah Powell (to name a few) – all rowers – turned out for basketball in March. (UW Daily, March 8, 1910)
During those early months of 1910, Conibear campaigned for the men’s team to travel east in order to compete with Wisconsin, as the publicity generated prompted an article about the UW and Conibear in the New York Tribune paper. The article praises the University and Conibear and comments about the women rowing –
“Washington is (a) co-educational (university), and Conibear coaches the girls, in his stroke and methods, as well as the men. They have a couple of barges to themselves and do a good deal of rowing in a quiet way. Conibear says his joy is unique in that respect. According to him, the girls are apt pupils, quick to grasp the principles of his stroke, as modified for their uses and enthusiastic in their efforts to learn to row. If Washington and Wellesley were not so far apart geographically, there might be a race between oarsmen that would compel the railroads to double deck the observation trains.” (UW Daily, January 24, 1910)
Wellesley College, an all-girls college in Massachusetts, started rowing in the late 1800’s. Physical education was encouraged since the college opened its doors in 1870 and the women participated in rowing, walking and gymnasium exercise. Wellesley acquired a boathouse in 1893 and began intercollegiate rowing in 1970. (www.wellesley.edu)
In the fall, Miss Merrick instituted a formal swimming screening program before the co-eds would be allowed to participate in rowing. Each woman had to pass a mandatory swim test and endure a physical examination by Dr. Hall before being cleared to row. (UW Daily, January 25, 1910) By February, sixty women were out on the water. There were twenty five freshmen and twenty five sophomores and ten juniors who turned out, but no seniors. Senior participation was at times low or non-existent in these early decades of the twentieth century. There is no reason given, however, it is possible that they simply moved on to other activities.
The freshman women trained in “Old Nero”, the same training barge used by the men and the older women trained in the barges. Gretchen O’Donnell was coaching and the women shared the Tokio Tea Room facility. The crew men agreed to help fix up some of the rooms for the women, and the women were determined to raise some additional funds to furnish the rooms to their liking. (UW Daily, February 21, 1910)
An article in the Daily on March 1st, titled “Women Develop Three Fast Freshman Crews” illustrates just how committed Gretchen and the women were and clearly implies that their goal was to race.
Three 1913 women’s crews have been developed and Assistant Coach Gretchen O’Donnell, ’12, expects as many from the sophomore and junior classes to turn out before long. Inclement weather is scarcely an obstacle to regular practice, so handy at the oars have the women proved themselves.
They are working out consistently and have overcome the first difficulties in managing the barges. Old Nero has not been abandoned yet by the later classes.
As soon as the money is raised among the women, separate quarters will be built by the men’s squad in the Tokio quarters for the women.” (UW Daily, March 1, 1910)
According to the Tyee yearbook, the men did indeed fix the Tokio Tea Room and the women fixed it up with “curtains, burlap and paint, and in such heretofore unheard-of luxury, training was carried on energetically.” (The Tyee, 1912, p 142)
The women’s crew at the University of Washington also received some National attention in the early months of 1910. Another article in the Daily titled “Only Women’s Crew Rows At Washington – University’s Oarswomen Are First In American College Water Sport – Attracts Attention In East” stated:
The University of Washington enjoys the unique distinction of being the only college in America to carry on women’s rowing, and the co-eds who make the class crews this year can claim the enviable record of being the only college oarswomen in the country, according to H. B. Conibear.
When Coach Conibear visited eastern rowing circles two years ago he was met on every side by inquires concerning the girls’ crew. Coach Courtney of Cornell was greatly interested in Conibear’s account of women’s rowing here, and before the western rowing instructor left New York he presented the Ithaca coach with pictures of the Washington co-ed crews.
Coach Conibear is planning a novel contest, which will take place between the women’s crew. After the eights have learned to handle a blade in good shape and a week or two before the junior day races on May 6 each crew will go through its best paces on the water, points to count for skill and maneuvering. The girls giving the most clever (sic) exhibition of rowing will be awarded a pennant.
Feminine members of the upper classes who have had experience in the shells will judge the contest.” (UW Daily, March 4, 1910)
This is not the first mention of form contests, since the first form contest took place in the spring of 1909, but it is clear that Conibear planned to have the women race in addition to showing how well they could row.
Furthermore, The Daily was making predictions as to which women’s crew would win the junior day races. The article, titled “Six Members Of Old Crew Out – Sophomore Co-eds Expected to Have Another Championship Eight – Senior Girls Will Not Row”, treated the women as competitors and spoke knowledgeably about the women and their talents on the water.
“With six of the nine girls who composed the freshman championship crew a year ago out for the eight which will represent the sophomore class this year, the 1912 women are expected to capture the laurels again in the interclass races. Minnie Dalbay, coxswain; Gretchen O’Connell, stroke; Marjorie Harkins, 7; Katherine Cadwell, 6; Bess Storch, 5; and Marion Radford, 4 are at present pulling an oar on the sophomore crew, and with six experienced women in the boat the sophs (sic) should be hard to beat.
The freshman crew is learning the fine points of the sport, however, and before the interclass races on Junior day a crew may be produced which can overcome the handicap of experience and take first place.
Junior stock took a sudden rise a few days ago when Dorothy Drake, a member of last year’s sophomore crew, started work on the junior eight.
To date, senior co-eds have failed to put in an appearance at the boathouse, and the interclass race will be a triangular affair between the suit (sic).
Captains of the three women’s crews will be elected this week. (Daily, March 15, 1910)
The program seemed to be progressing well and then everything changed less than a week later when Miss Jesse Merrick blindsided the women with the news that she would not allow them to race. The women were shocked and must have felt that she didn’t know enough about rowing (there is no evidence that she did) because they asked her to make a “thorough investigation of rowing”, and even invited her to ride in the coaching launch before she made her final decision. The women adamantly tried to explain that rowing “conducted under the guidance of Coach H. B. Conibear and his assistant Miss Gretchen O’Donnell is not too severe physically.” Conibear strongly supported the women by stating in The Daily that –
“During my stay at Washington as rowing coach I have never known any ill effects to be caused as a result of rowing for either boys or girls. Although few collegians are aware of the facts, I find out before the races how long a time the girls can row without becoming tired. If the crews on the average can row nicely for four minutes, this time is set for the races, and the girls are not allowed to pull an oar after the four minutes is up. The sport is beneficial and not as hard as basketball.” (UW Daily, March 21, 1910)
An unsigned editorial appeared in the Pacific Wave in March that really illustrates the sentiment of the women at the time. It was titled “Are College Women Weaklings?”
“Women’s rowing is again in the toils and threat is made to prohibit co-ed crew contests of speed and endurance. Women’s rowing is young at this university and has had to struggle incessantly to live – not because of lack of interest among the women themselves, but because of legislation launched either directly or indirectly against the sport. Persistence kept crews formed, however, and last year and year before Junior Day women’s crew races gladdened the heart of every student.
These crews are a mark of distinction here, for, to our knowledge, no other college supports women’s crews. So determined were the co-eds to row this year that they themselves chose an assistant coach to train them, owing to Coach Conibear’s lack of time. This is recent history.
When the women’s rowing first began in the spring of 1906 the struggle was harder yet. The girls had to row whenever they could find the barge not in use by the men. “Old Nero”, the clumsy punt for beginners was used most of the time. But the women gained recognition and have cause to be proud of the crews that have developed since.
That is the side sentiment displays. Cold facts as to the effect physically rowing has on women disprove that it is too strenuous a sport for them; an excuse set upon to again hinder or entirely abolish women’s rowing. Actual rowing will not hurt them and as to weather exposure let their coach judge whether it is too severe at times to risk illness. Rowing is not compulsory, and if the women want to row – and their stick-to-itiveness and pluck show that they do want to row and will row – then the best thing is to let them do so.
As to contests, it is hardly conceivable that either contesting crew will be satisfied with “form” matches. Women have the racing instinct as well as men and no “form” match will satisfy them – in fact, it is very likely that the “form” race would develop into a speed and endurance race before the contending eights had taken a dozen strokes. An athletic woman will row to the limit of her strength anyhow, so let speed contests continue. Washington women are tired of being pampered into weaklings.” (University of Washington Daily, March 22, 1910)
An opposing editorial titled “What is the Ideal?” appeared in The Daily on March 28th.
From the editorial in a recent Daily, the ideal of women’s athletics would seem to be the cultivation of the “racing instinct”. This is exactly the point upon which those who take the opposite view base their objections.
To measure women’s athletics by men’s standards is not possible, and as not girl who makes a crew will allow an easy task to be the measure of her ability, so one who is weaker than the strongest member will not allow the standard to be lowered for her benefit. Hence we have races which are not for weaklings by and means, but which cause men and women to remark: ‘I will never again witness a girls’ crew race; they are so plainly beyond the endurance of many of the girls that they are disgusting.’
The benefits to be derived from athletics are not wholly tests of endurance and extreme of strength. Any girl who rows will tell you that ‘good form’ is not the easiest thing to attain.
Besides, it would be a step in advance of the general trend of athletics, which gives only those who are strongest a place, and would tend toward giving all a more equal chance, those who are capable and accurate, but weaker, and who need the benefit, some chance to obtain it.
The ideal of women’s athletics should be of a much higher standard. Women are not physically constructed for great tasks of endurance, and a better ideal would be a more perfect self-control, the highest development of which she is capable physically and, above all, the ability to be a good loser. To enter into all sports for what she can get out of them – not simply to try for one place, make a team and win in one small contest.
The women of Washington are not ‘weaklings’ by any means, as is shown by their determination and their concentrated work for crews this spring, nor would a form contest necessarily stamp them so, as there are other ways in which to show strength than by mere endurance. Written by A. T. L. (UW Daily, March 28, 1910)
A final editorial titled “Why Not Compromise?” appeared on April 1st.
Women’s rowing is still under the ban, so far as speed racing is concerned. The whole objection lies in the belief that the sport is too strenuous for women to undertake, except as a mild recreation. Another objection is that the spirit of athletic competition is not becoming in them, that it fills them wit a ‘racing instinct’ altogether improper for a young woman to cultivate. Happily the objection is not insisted on by those governing rowing, for they are willing that racing be held, provided it is done by choosing the proper woman in the boat to stroke the eight – in other words, that the girl weakest physically set the pace for the others. Yet it seems this selection would further complicate matters and impose a double duty on that weakest woman, since it is true that stroke performs more work (by using both brain and muscular energy) than any other girl in the crew. So, after all, the objection might be withdrawn. It is an easy matter to pick the girl best able to stand stroke, and to arrange the crew as the women’s coaches and trainers see fit to back her up. (While it is) so easy to row a full race without working one’s head off, whether the others are pulling stronger oars or not, the tax on one’s strength is not necessarily exacting, and racing is not likely to over exhaust the crew. Surely some compromise can be arranged to let the women race as they wish without endangering their health. (UW Daily, April 1, 1910)
These strongly worded editorials reflected the upheaval caused by the ban on women’s racing; however Miss Merrick did not change her mind.
“Instructor Stands Pat on Aquatics – Miss Jessie B. Merrick Still Insists Women Shall Not Row Contest Races – Co-Eds Declare For Form Race”
No change has taken place in the women’s rowing situation; Miss Jessie B. Merrick, instructor of women, remaining firm in her stand that the co-eds shall not race, while the women are equally certain that they want to keep up women’s rowing in this, the only (co-ed) institution in the country where women are allowed to row.
The co-eds are training regularly and say they will hold at least a form race if Miss Merrick persists in not letting them have a real one. They have planned a women’s dance for next Friday afternoon at 4 o’clock in the Women’s building to raise money to furnish their quarters in the old Tokio Café.
Marjorie Harkins, ’12; Minnie McGinnis, ’11; and Hazel Learned, ’13, were appointed as the committee in charge.
Candy and other refreshments will be served. A small sum, 10 cents, will be charged, and all the women in the university are urged to attend and bring their friends in order to have a good time and incidentally to help girls’ rowing.” (UW Daily, March 30, 1910)
The women appeared to continue with their training and an article, titled “Women’s Rowing Booms at Varsity”, certainly describes the popularity of the sport for women and reiterates its unique place in the country.
The University of Washington is the only (co-ed) university in America which supports women’s rowing and the sport which the co-eds of the state university carry on so exclusively is booming as never before. Sixty girls are turning out for aquatics and Coach H. B. Conibear and his assistant, Miss Gretchen O’Donnell, sometimes have as many as forty candidates out in a single afternoon.
It was not until four years ago when Coach Conibear made his bow as head of rowing that the game for the gentler sex was really taken seriously. Conibear organized crews, and under his personal direction they were trained to pull an oar. Annual class rowing exhibitions were instituted and have now become an annual event.
So many freshman girls are turning out for places in the freshman barge that the only satisfactory way to pick the first crew to represent the 1913 class will be by means of preliminary contests between the crews.
Miss O’Donnell expects to have two sophomore crews at work until the time for the selection of the eight to meet the seniors, juniors and freshman in the form contest on Junior Day, May 6.
The form contests are exhibitions of skill in handling boats and oars on the part of the oarswomen. The class crews will each take their turn in pulling, backing, stroking and executing other maneuvers on the water, and the crew which is judged the most perfect in form will capture first prize. Girls in the upper classes who have had experience in rowing will judge the affair. (UW Daily, April 8, 1910)
As contented as that article sounds, an anonymous sign appeared in the women’s rooms at the Shellhouse that read – “I like rowing very much; I like racing better.” (UW Daily, April 14, 1910)
After all of the earnest arguments were made, the women obediently participated in the form only contest at the Junior Day regatta held on May 6th. Although there were no results posted in the Daily, the Tyee noted that “for the first time three crews (freshman, sophomore and junior women) were entered in the form contest on Junior Day.” The Tyee stated that the crew of 1912 won the day and received a large Washington pennant. The line-ups for the day were: (1912 Tyee, p. 142, UW Daily, May 5, 1910)
Class of 1912 (sophomores)
Class of 1911 (juniors)
Class of 1913 (frosh)
While remembering the 1910 season of rowing, Dollie (McLean) Callow (wife of legendary Coach and former UW oarsman Rusty Callow) told Al Ulbrickson Jr. (son of another legendary Washington coach Al Ulbrickson), in an interview on May 5, 1963, that the women did still race – although in secret. Ulbrickson wrote – “While the girls’ program was not supposed to be competitive in the least, it was not unusual for two or more girls’ crews to compete unofficially when out of sight of the boat house.” (A History of Intercollegiate Rowing at the University of Washington through 1963, Alvin E. Ulbrickson Jr., 1963, p. 74)
As the 1910 season came to an end, it should be noted that, as an illustration of how generally supportive the men at the University were of the women, the following comment was made in The Daily about the women’s debate team –
“At Washington the co-ed is on a par with the men in every respect. She has her say about the running of campus activities, her vote counts as much in the annual elections; she is even eligible to earn the official “W.”
The trio of women debaters that meet a team from the University of Oregon tonight can know that they go into the contest with the hearty good wishes of all Washingtonians, men as well as women. If they win, we will all rejoice; if they lose, it will be a university and not a co-ed defeat.” (UW Daily, May 13, 1910)
The women left school that spring hoping that they would be able to have rowing races again. An editorial (most likely written by Helen Ross an assistant editor of the paper) in The Daily at the end of May attempted to call attention to the serious plight of the women’s crews. It was titled “The Women’s Share”
“Attention to the (men’s) Stanford regatta and the Wisconsin trip just now is paramount. It should not be exclusive. Rowing, as represented by the varsity as a sport, is confined wholly to the men. The women, while never wavering in their loyalty, ask that they, too, should have some consideration. In the hurly-burly of the probable last Pacific coast regatta and of an unprecedented trip eastward, their interests have largely been lost sight of, but it is not yet too late for the board of control in the few meetings remaining to it to remedy the fault by making some provisions for women’s rowing.
Delay now may put the quietus to women’s rowing. Unless the board makes immediate provision, the matter will be left in abeyance until the feminine portion of the university finds itself without representation in the field of sport. It is easy enough to say, ‘Wait until next year,’ but experience has shown that waiting until next year has meant waiting forever. Carelessness, probably, rather than deliberate intent, has caused the student council to allow the matter to be dropped. Both are equally fatal.
No legitimate excuse, indeed, could be urged for the quiet asphyxiation of women’s rowing, even if such a course were intended. As a physical exercise it is not subject to the criticism often made against the more strenuous work of the men. As an equivalent to gymnasium work it has no peer. To get the full benefit of the course, however, the women desire that it should begin with the opening of college. This cannot be done if the matter is allowed to remain unsettled until next fall. The women pay the $5 student fee as do the men. It is only equitable that they receive equivalent return.” (UW Daily, May 24, 1910)
At one of their last meetings of the year, the Board of Control voted to allow the women to use the rowing equipment in the coming fall season. Gretchen O’Donnell presented a petition “signed by forty women asking that the co-eds be allowed the use of the oars and barges at the opening of college next September.” The petition was accepted and a resolution was passed by the Board. (UW Daily, June 1, 1910, p. 1)
This editorial may have caused a small rift between the women and Conibear. Conibear referred to an article written by Miss Ross and commented at the time that he was insulted by the editorial stating that he had not allowed the women to use the equipment. (Daily “40 Years Ago in Sports”, June, 1950)
The women fought hard for equality during
the 1909-1910 school year and must have thought that they were on track to prove
they were ready, willing and able to row and race when school started again.
They could not have been even remotely prepared for the bombshell announcement
that would greet them when they returned to school in the autumn of 1910.
Lavina Rudberg, early century UW Gymnasium Director, and one of the pioneers of women's rowing at Washington. She was replaced in the fall of 1909 by Jessie Merrick, a woman who did not share the same interest in the sport as Rudberg, and it would have an impact almost immediately. Tyee photo.
The Class of '12 - 1910 Junior Day champions. Gretchen O'Donnell is second from the left. Tyee photo.
Frosh eight. Tyee photo.
In October 1910, Dr. D. C. Hall, the Gymnasium Director, submitted a letter to President Kane recommending that women’s rowing be discontinued immediately.
Dr. Hall and Jessie Merrick (Women’s Gymnasium Director) convinced the Board of Control that rowing was too hard for women, and the faculty supported this view and formally canceled women’s rowing at the UW.
Dr. Hall’s letter to President Kane stated –
“President Kane – After a thorough trial and careful consideration, we have decided that it would not be advisable to continue rowing for girls. We wish to present our reasons and ask for your approval or advice in the matter.
Under ideal conditions rowing would be very profitable for the young women, but the conditions here are so far from ideal that, in order to indulge in the pastime, great sacrifices must be made. We have watched it for two years under changed conditions and have concluded that rowing for rowing’s sake is not wanted by the girls. The results for the last year are as follows:
Registered for rowing – Freshman, 28; sophomores, 17; juniors and seniors, 0; Total 45
Withdrawals during the season – Reasons: Lack of physical endurance, 11; lack of time, 6; parents prohibited, 2; rowing too easy, 1; unavoidable absence, 1; no chance to make crew, 1; not interested after form contest, 23; total, 45.
Two would have continued to row if they could have made the crew in spite of the fact that they were physically unable. Girls would not absent themselves at critical times for fear of losing their place on the crew. Owing to difference of opinion with aquatic instructor who insisted on determining the amount of work by the degree of physical exhaustion of the strongest and the impossibility of supervision by the department, several cases of fainting from exhaustion have occurred in the boat and dressing rooms after rowing, knowledge of which was suppressed and acquired through irregular sources.” (UW Daily, October 5, 1910)
Hiram Conibear, in a letter to President Kane about the women’s crew in April of 1911 (some six months after the ban), expressed his feelings when he read Dr. Hall’s letter. Conibear’s letter was:
“President Thomas F. Kane,
University of Washington
Dear Sir –
Yours of the 5th inst is at hand.
I know of no movement to reinstate rowing for young women, and I certainly am not in favor of it unless it is agreeable to you. Prof. Roberts and Prof. Thorpe wanted the young women for Thursday, the 6th entertainment, and so I helped to comply with their request. (Editor’s note: Conibear is referring to Teddy Roosevelt’s visit in April of 1911)
I might say in passing, however, that Dr. Hall’s recommendation of September 17th, as published in the Daily (October 5th issue) was not all true. I have worked hard for four years and built up girls’ rowing from five in the spring of ’07 to over seventy that reported for rowing last year, and for such action to be taken and at the same time a slap given me, is not right to my way of looking at things. I believe I am entitled to have my side of the matter, as are also the young ladies who have been injured by the work under my coaching and the young ladies that have been benefited by coaching, heard.
My great desire is the physical upbuilding (sic) of as many students as possible and it cuts deep when such statements as Dr. Hall made in his recommendation of September 17th are taken as true.
I would feel very grateful if I should be allowed to have an interview with you on this matter and have every detail worked out to your complete satisfaction, as well as my own.
H. B. Conibear”
(Special Collections, President’s Collection, Accession number 71-34, box #113, and folder number 20)
The entire incident was clearly a slap in the face of the women who wanted to race, since the majority of them quit the team only after the Junior Day forced form only contest, and to Conibear who was accused of working the women too hard. The women tried to appeal because they loved to row and because it would be more difficult to win their “W” since they were required to win honors in four different semesters, but the decision of the faculty was final. (UW Daily, October 13, 1910)
So, with no women to coach, Conibear devoted his time to the men’s crew and continued his mission to get the local high schools interested in rowing and to establish interscholastic competition. (UW Daily, March 7, 1910, October 14, 1910)
The women kept busy participating in the other sports available to them and followed the debate for women’s suffrage in the state of Washington. The sentiment in the state and in the university was strongly in favor of the men voting to give the women the right to vote. The election in November proved successful for women’s suffrage and Washington became only the fifth state in the Union to give women the vote – a full ten years ahead of the rest of the country. This is another illustration of how the men clearly respected the women of the state and the university. (“Men present women right of suffrage”, The Seattle Times, November 9, 1910 p. 1)
By November, the big “W” requirements had already been updated to reflect the loss of rowing.
“Upon the vote of the board of control, the woman’s “W” shall be awarded to any regular (not special) woman student who shall have won four honors divided among at least three branches of athletics. One honor may be won by attending the third year of physical training or by playing on the final class team baseball, basketball, tennis, hockey and handball.” (The UW Daily, November 10, 1910)
It seemed quite bleak now for the women’s crew, but the women would not be kept on the shore for long. By April, the women were re-organizing, most certainly under the leadership and passion of Gretchen O’Donnell, and making plans to get on the water again. The women elected Gretchen O’Donnell and Gertrude Mallette to coach them, and the team operated independent of any formal university authority although the women discussed allowing the Women’s Athletic Association to manage them. Unfortunately for them, the co-ed track team coaches saw a decrease in their team participants once the women started to row again – once again proving the popularity of the sport. (The UW Daily, April 11, 1911, April 14, 1911)
The women also planned to join the festivities and participate in a rowing demonstration as part of a celebration for former President Teddy Roosevelt who was coming to visit the campus. A short article appeared in The Daily -
“Co-ed rowing, the sport which dying was so copiously bewailed by its fair adherents at the beginning of the year, has been “revived again” by these same adherents who have organized a co-ed rowing club.
The first appearance of the women’s crew will be before the “delight” of the colonel tomorrow afternoon. Rowing under the control of the ASUW is a thing of sad memory, but the co-eds hope that by carrying on the sport by private support it will be established again.
Rowing was one of the most popular sports open to university women, and when abolished was mourned with bitter tears. The women rowers are once more happy at the recovery of their favorite athletic hobby and look for a successful season.” (UW Daily, April 5, 1911)
By May the women were training twice weekly on Lake Union. They launched from the old Tokio Tea House at the foot of the “Pay streak” road that was part of the Alaska Yukon Exposition. The Pay Streak road ended somewhere near the Lake Union side of the present day Montlake Cut, probably just past the finish line. The women were in training for the Junior Day regatta and planned to divide into clubs named for suffragette leaders of the day – Hetty Green and Carrie Nation. The women slated to participate in the boatings were: June Wright, Mabel Bowen, Rosalind Barr, Monta Quigley, Sadie McDowell, Laura Hurd, Ione Holmes and Clothilde Patten. Later articles included Agnes Hobie and Hazel Connor as candidates and stated that Monta’s last name was Mogley. The winners of the day were to receive a solid silver hat pin shaped like an oar with bands of college colors and “UW” inscribed upon it. (UW Daily, May 1, 1911, May 9, 1910)
The Daily boasted that the students were excited to see the women row again on Junior Day –
“The co-ed race on that day promises to be one of the keenest features of the day. Owing to the strong opposition regarding the women’s rowing, the student body and public at large will welcome with no small amount of enthusiasm the race on Lake Washington.” (UW Daily, May 9, 1911)
Once again there was no coverage of the results of Junior Day in The Daily; however, the main outcome was that by re-organizing independently the women were not going to let the administration keep them away from rowing for too long. Women’s athletics at the UW seemed to be on firm ground in the spring of 1911, and sportswomen not only qualified for their “W” emblem, they received them in increasing numbers. In the fall of 1911, Miss Hazel Learned (class of 1913) was praised as being the only woman to date to earn her “W” by participating in four sports, hockey, basketball, baseball and crew. (UW Daily, October 16, 1911)
From the UW archives, a photograph mailed as a postcard to Miss Caroline Ober
of Seattle, postmarked Feb. 24, 1911. On the back it reads:
mate of the [unknown]
MSCUA Photo Coll 700.
One of the rare color reproductions of the era, here is an image of a Washington coed with the traditional turtle neck W sweater of the times, surrounded by purple and gold. Tyee photo.
The University of Washington (established in 1861) started its fiftieth year in the fall of 1911, and the men formed the “Wearers of the W” club. The following February, the women also formed a “W” club they named “Women’s W Winners.” (The UW Daily, November 9, December 7, 1911, February 9, 1912)
There was still a formal ban on women’s rowing, and an article appearing in the UW Daily in October reported that women’s rowing had been “forbidden last year owing to the lack of comfortable quarters.” This sounds a bit revisionist since nothing was mentioned of improper facilities in the fall of 1910 when women’s rowing was disbanded. The major concerns reported on at the time had been the physical demands of rowing. It was reported that Dr. D. C. Hall (the same Director of the Department of Physical Training who asked for women’s rowing to be disbanded in 1910), “holds out hope that girls’ crews will be possible this spring when the weather is good.” It seems that now the main consideration was the lack of lockers and proper heating in the facility, and the faculty promised to let the women row again when the Tokio Café was renovated. (The UW Daily, December 6, 1911)
This renovation needed the support of the regents, and their money, before the program could be reinstated, and this monetary allocation seemed assured by the middle of December. (The UW Daily, December 19, 1911) Miss Merrick, women’s gymnasium Director stated in an interview that –
“I am much in favor of resuming crew work for the women, but it must be resumed under better conditions. With the old Tokio Café remodeled and comfortably furnished, and with a competent director, I would advise as many women who are physically able to take up the aquatic sport.
The new facilities which were appropriated by the university are at the disposal of the co-eds, and there are enough barges to accommodate at least fifty co-eds.” (The UW Daily, January 11, 1912)
Unfortunately, a new complication came when Coach Conibear stated that he didn’t have time to coach the women anymore. Conibear must have felt some resentment toward the sports administration since he was blamed for working the women too hard in 1910 when women’s crew was dropped. He may even have still felt annoyed at the women for the 1910 editorial. Now, if he were to coach the women he wanted more control of the situation. He told his side of the story to The Daily –
“I took up coaching of girls’ rowing in 1907, said Conibear last night in explaining his position on refusing (to coach the women). I had a nucleus of five girls turning out, Helen Tillman (now Mrs. Victor Zednick), Gertrude Mallette, and Misses Pattent and O’Conner, and around these I built up a strong crew. In the spring of 1910, seventy girls were rowing and I planned to hold some regattas. I wanted to have the girls row at about fifteen to twenty strokes a minute and to have the races last only two or three minutes. The men’s crews pull for twenty minutes straight at thirty-four strokes a minute. I felt that after the women had been training three months that they could do this without injury, but the authorities frowned on the races and women’s racing was abandoned.
I would be glad to instruct the girls if the matter of management was left entirely in my hands. The Department of Physical Training should, of course, decide who should turn out and how long they should engage in the sport and how long I should keep them on the water. But the rest of the plans should be left in my charge.
I am heartily in favor of the sport for girls and I do not think it is too strenuous for them. The old Tokio Café Building, if renovated, would make good crew quarters for them and if conditions are changed, I should gladly consent to coach the girls.” (The UW Daily, January 15, 1912)
By February, the matter was left in the hands of the ASUW and the women must have been very frustrated and close to losing all hope. Dr. Hall, who now seemed an unlikely advocate for the women’s crew, seemed to give up as well. In an interview with The Daily, Dr. Hall stated -
“The physical training department has no facilities for starting women’s crews. Mr. Conibear has refused to coach the co-eds for various reasons. It is now up to the ASUW. The matter is entirely out of my hands. I have done all that I can do.” (The UW Daily, February 8, 1912)
After stating that everyone including Dr. Hall, Conibear and the women wanted the women to row and that the faculty had removed the objection that rowing was dangerous to a co-ed’s health, the Daily editorialists summed up the situation thus -
“The entire snarl does not appear so hopeless but that it might be unraveled by skillful hands. This, we believe, should be done at once by the Board of Control, and this strengthening outdoor exercise restored this spring to the varsity women.” (The UW Daily, February 9, 1912)
In addition to the rowing situation, the Women’s Athletic Association, under pressure from purists who thought that giving women “W’s was not in keeping with the ASUW constitution, voted to increase the requirements for women to earn their school emblem. The resolution was given to the Board of Control for their vote. The WAA thought that the requirements were strict enough to silence the critics and still allow women to earn a “W” for participation in intra-class sports since most of the sports did not compete with other universities. The sports in which the women must have participated in (not to exceed two honors in any one sport) were hockey, basketball, baseball, tennis and track.
“The association has eliminated the honor for junior gymnasium, and hereafter a woman will be required, according to the resolution to win honors by making at least six teams in three different sports with no more than two honors in each sport to be counted toward a sweater. It is obvious that a co-ed must show ability in athletics and regularity throughout the year in outdoor games in order to win the emblem, and it is apparent that a girl will not win the much-coveted emblem until she becomes at least a junior.” (The UW Daily, March 8, 1912)
In March, Coach Conibear’s contract was renewed until January, 1914. The coach was to be paid the same $1,800 per year, and now was required to coach anyone male or female. Although this wasn’t the most optimal solution, it did solve the coaching problem for the women.
“His (Conibear’s) duties are to include, according to the contract accepted, coaching any student of the university, male or female, in rowing, but the provision was attached that during training season the varsity eights should receive especial attention.” (The UW Daily, March 21, 1912)
Despite Conibear’s apparent return to
the women, there was no record of formal rowing in the spring of 1912. The
women would have to wait another year before everything would align and they
could take to the water again. Unfortunately, Gretchen O’Donnell graduated in
1912, and would not be at the University to champion women’s rowing, although
her influence and dedication most certainly kept women’s rowing alive from the
fall of 1910 to the spring of 1912. Circumstances were about to get much better
and the women wouldn’t have to wait too long before getting back on the lake.
The women haul one of the wherry 8's out of the water, ca. 1912. Photo courtesy MSCUA Photo Coll 700.
Gretchen O'Donnell, geology major and all-around woman on campus. In addition to her dedication to rowing, Miss O'Donnell was on the Hockey team (right halfback) and Basketball team (guard), as well as being assistant editor of the Tyee, member of the Women's League, WAA, Spanish Club, Senior Class Secretary, Varsity Ball Committee, involved in drama, and Senior Class historian. Add to that "coach" of the women's rowing squad in 1911. Invaluable to Conibear in these early years, it was her dedication that linked the program from it's inception to the glory years mid-decade. Tyee photo.
Coach Hiram Conibear once again proved his dedication to rowing at the University of Washington in general and to the women in particular by apparently single-handedly renovating the old Tokio Café, in addition to the men’s shell house, over the summer of 1912 so that the co-eds could participate once again. He did not appear to hold a grudge about being required to coach the women, but was doing what came naturally to him – supporting the rowing program. The Daily chronicled his updates and repairs –
“Coach Conibear of the aquatic department has been busy all summer renovating the varsity boathouse and remodeling the old Tokio Café building. The crew house has been painted, both inside and out, the dressing room accommodations materially improved, and a new shower room installed.
The former Tokio Café building has been moved onto the dock, so that easy access may be had to the water. With the outside painted and remodeling and extensive repairs made inside, the old building makes an acceptable addition to the other shell houses.
In case the faculty will permit women to row this year, this new building will be used by the feminine rowers until 4 o’clock, when it will be thrown open to the use of the general public.” (The UW Daily, September 20, 1912)
The faculty approved the new facilities for the women and officially sanctioned the sport again in October, provided the women adhered to the committee’s rigid conditions. The committee composed of Dean Milnor Roberts, Professor Harvey Lantz, Professor H. B. Densmore, Professor Robert E. Moritz, Dean Izabella Austin and Dean A. S. Haggett, set up rules and regulations that the women had to follow.
“The women shall dress at the gymnasium and report there before and after rowing.
The women who turn out for rowing must demonstrate that they can swim.
There shall be no racing at any time. (This does not exclude form contests.)
The women shall not use the shells. (The barges will be used, as in the custom in women’s rowing to avoid danger.)
The committee also recommended that a woman instructor be obtained if possible. The use of lighter oars in place of the heavy sweeps was also favored.” (The UW Daily, October 7, 1912)
The women must have been tired of fighting the administration and most probably accepted the conditions just so that they could just get back on the water. A. F. Pocock (father of George Y. Pocock) and R. F. Pocock (George’s brother) also took up residence in the Tokio Cafe that fall and began building another shell for the UW. (The UW Daily, October 25, 1912) In December, the Pocock’s fixed up the eight oared training barges for the women so that they could begin rowing in the spring. (The UW Daily, December 20, 1912)
Also during the fall of 1912 work continued on the Shipping Canal and the Montlake Cut that would link Puget Sound to Lake Union and Lake Union to Lake Washington. Approximately 600,000 cubic yards of soil was removed from the canal site and put on the shores of Lake Union, and another 65,000 cubic yards was to be added from the shipping canal. In addition, Mountlake Boulevard was taking shape. Big changes were in the works on the campus by the lakes, and an estimated 100 acres would be added the UW by the time the projects were completed. (The UW Daily, December 9, 1912)
Once again there is no record of the women’s crew participation on Junior Day, and there was no mention of them in the 1913 Tyee yearbook; however, it seems clear that the women’s crew was back.
The Tokyo Tea Room during the 1909 AYE, soon to be converted by Conibear into a shop for the Pococks and a locker room - of sorts - for the women. Directly to the left is Portage Bay. Photo courtesy MSCUA #AYE562.
Same building, a few years later - in the foreground women are launching a four-oared shell. Tyee photo.
Here is a picture taken in February of 2003 of the approximate location of the original shellhouse on Portage Bay (Lake Union), the Tokyo Tea Room located just to the north. The Montlake Cut would not exist until 1916; most of the area around the shellhouse was undeveloped lakeshore in 1910. Eric Cohen/WRF Photo.
Enrollment topped 3,340 students by the spring of 1914 and the women’s crew gained some new energy and excitement. The October 16, 1913 UW Daily sported a photograph of the women’s crew on the docks under the headline – “Varsity Co-eds Are Rowing Now”. And, a blurb in the Daily on the 31st of October stated –
“ROWING – All sophomore women who plan to turn out for rowing next spring are urged to come out now. Experienced gained now will prove invaluable next spring. Sophomores row at 3 o’clock, Tuesday and Friday.”
In the autumn of 1913, Lucy Pocock, George and Dick’s sister, who was the cook at the men’s boathouse, also found the time to coach the women’s crew. Lucy was a famous oarswoman in her own right and held several medals from championships won in England. A December article chronicled the history of the ban on women’s rowing and its rebirth with Miss Pocock’s help.
“In the olden days the water sport was a very popular one with the women, but was abandoned by the physical department, as the training was thought to be too heavy for the frail athletes. By much hard work on the part of those interested and the proof the training was beneficial rather than harmful; the authorities have consented to the revival. The appreciation on the part of the girls was shown in the turnout which responded to Miss Pocock’s call.
The women, because of their slighter builds, are shown no favoritism in training methods, but are forced to undergo the same ordeals as are the men. Before they are permitted to enter a barge they must be able to swim, handle an oar and trim a boat. Regular classes are held in swimming under the supervision of Miss Pocock. The second step brings the would be oarswoman to the proverbial old tub, ‘Nero.’ Here she is taught the art of beveling her oar and the dozen other essentials required before one is deemed proficient enough to be entrusted with a regular boat.
The third step, a welcome one, is the picking of a crew and the appearance of the long, easy rowing barge. Miss Pocock follows the boat about in a single scull, giving her instructions through a small megaphone. After a half hour’s workout, the crew returns and another squad takes to the water.
By spring it is thought that nearly 200 candidates will be out for the various class crews. This number can easily be handled and it is the hopes of those in charge that that number will turn out. It requires a great deal of courage to turn out in a driving rain, and only those most interested will attempt it.”
Since there were still no other women’s rowing programs at any northwest colleges, the women would again have to be content with class form contests. (The UW Daily, December 2, 1913)
Although Lucy Pocock only coached the women for a short time in the autumn of 1913, she was a wonderful advocate for women’s rowing and helped to reestablish the program at the UW at a very critical time. Lucy and her father and brothers were well respected for their athletic prowess in rowing and their boatbuilding skills. The Daily made this comment about Miss Pocock –
“Miss Pocock is a fine example of what rowing can do for a woman, as she has been interested in this ever since she could lift an oar. At sixteen years of age she took several trophies for amateur women’s racing. She thoroughly enjoys it and thinks it the greatest sport that there is.” (The UW Daily, January 15, 1914)
Miss Ethel Johnson began coaching the women’s crews in the winter of 1914 and continued until the spring of 1916. Ethel Johnson came to the University of Washington in the fall of 1913 and also coached other sports at the UW. Ethel appeared to be well liked and very dedicated to the sporting women of the University. The Daily described the new coach –
“Ethel D. Johnson, who will coach the girls’ crew, is out every morning giving instructions to several (women in) doubles, a single or two, or possibly a crew in the four-oared scull (sic). The turnout has never yet been big enough to call for an eight.” (The UW Daily, February 26, 1914)
Just when the women were getting their feet wet back in the rowing barges another obstacle hindered their progress. In March, the level of Lake Union fell due to work being done on the shipping canal to connect Lake Union with Salmon Bay in Puget Sound. A dam between the shipping canal and Lake Union broke and caused the level of the Lake to drop several feet as the water rushed into the Sound. The men simply moved to Lake Washington to row, but since Lake Washington was thought to be “too dangerous” for the women, they temporarily stopped rowing until the level of Lake Union returned to normal. (The UW Daily, March 18, March 23, April 4, 1914)
Coach Johnson held out hope that the women would be able to row again after spring vacation and Coach Conibear was enthusiastic about the women’s training since he expected “to have some interesting contests between the class crews after a short training season.” (The UW Daily, April 4, 1914)
The level of Lake Union returned to normal in May and The Daily had this to say –
“The return of Lake Union to its former shores makes rowing for women a Washington sport. Only a few weeks remain before the end of school, but the number signed up already indicates the keen interest in the sport. Last year girls’ rowing was impossible because of the lack of a coach. This year the sudden disappearance of much of the available water interfered with the manipulation of the oars.
Ethel D. Johnson is coaching the girls and there will be practice at 10 o’clock Mondays and Wednesdays; at 11 o’clock on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and from 1 to 3 Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Another hour is being arranged on Monday and Wednesday afternoon.” (The UW Daily, May 4, 1914)
The last swimming test was held on the 15th of May and the women practiced in singles, doubles and fours. In yet another testament to the popularity of rowing for women, Coach Johnson stated that –
“The women, thirty-five in all, do not receive credit for crew work, nor are honors given as yet, so it is just the women who want the practice and like the work who are turning out.” (The UW Daily, May 14, 1914)
The 1914 Tyee yearbook included three photographs of the women’s crew, but no names or results of the spring regatta or class crew contests were posted. Nevertheless, the women must have been happy to be back rowing on a regular basis at the University of Washington. (Tyee, 1913-1914, p. 183)
Miss Ethel Johnson arrived on campus in the fall of 1913, hired by Bessie Merrick as coach/instructor for Hockey and Baseball, and quickly took to the sport of rowing. Tyee photo.
By the end of 1915, 4,050 students would attend the UW, and The Daily reported that 13,185 students had attended the University since it opened in 1861. Almost one third of the 2,423 graduates were women. (The UW Daily, September 28, 1914, University of Washington Catalogs, Special collections, 1909-1919)
For the first time in many years, the women were ready to begin rowing as soon as school opened in the fall. Fifty women were signed up to row (after their compulsory swimming test), and twenty-five of those women were first year freshman. Conibear was still very much involved with the women’s crew, and as the Daily reported –
“Coach Conibear has had the eight-oared barges repaired for the use of last year’s crews, and the novices will be sent out in Old Nero. With Ethel D. Johnson as coach, Mr. Conibear intends to give his personal supervision to the girls’ crews this year.” (The UW Daily, September 22, 1914)
By the end of September, seventy-five women were signed up to row and many of these women learned to swim just so they could participate in rowing. Most of the women were freshmen and sophomores, and they practiced on Mondays and Wednesdays at 2 o’clock and 3 o’clock and the juniors and senior practiced on Tuesdays and Thursdays. (The UW Daily, September 28, 1914)
The first ever co-ed fall regatta was held in December and after six weeks on the water and a “competitive turnout”, Coaches Conibear and Johnson chose the boatings. They moved the women from boat to boat and tried all of the possible combinations to come up with the final combinations. Both The Daily and the Tyee yearbook listed the participants and the lists were identical with the exception of some spelling differences. (Tyee, 1915, The UW Daily November 16, 1914)
Class of 1915 (s)
Class of 1916 (j)
Class of 1917 (so.)
Class of 1918 (f)
The form-only rowing regatta was held over three days in December and over 200 spectators cheered for their favorite crews. Now, each co-ed who participated in the regatta was eligible to win one honor in rowing toward fulfilling the six honor required to win a “W”. The seniors were pitted against the freshmen and the juniors against the sophomores. Miss Johnson was pleased with the performance of the women and the interest shown by the co-eds. The judging was thorough, and each boat was judged on the following criteria with a possible 100 point total. (This is slightly different from the criteria used in 1909)
“The scores represent the averages of the individual scoring of nine judges. In scoring the judges mark on a basis of ten possible points for each of the following operations: Loading boat, unloading boat, starboard backing, port backing, starboard stroking, port stroking, all stroking, all backing, coxswain and oarsmanship.” (The UW Daily, December 8, 1914)
“The judges, who are all former university oarswomen, are as follows: Mrs. Victor Zednick, Mrs. Gretchen O’Donnell Starr, Mrs. Drake Trumbull, Miss Josephine Buckley and Miss Elnora Jones. Dr. and Mrs. D. C. Hall and Mr. and Mrs. H. B. Conibear will be the patron and patronesses.” (The UW Daily, December 2, 1914)
The lead changed after each day of the competition and the junior women won the event with a score of 640.45 points. The freshmen were second with a score of 621.5 and the sophomores third with 600.6. The senior women did not enter singles or doubles and so they finished last. Persis Buell, the junior class single sculler, achieved the highest score of the regatta with 97.1 points. The junior women also won the doubles contest, and the senior women, who had the best costumes – “brightly striped blazers and white stocking caps” –, won the fours contest. At the end of the regatta, Coach Johnson selected an All-star eight made up of women from each of the classes. (See photo below)
In a showing of solidarity and camaraderie, the men’s and women’s rowing teams held a banquet to celebrate the end of the fall rowing. The men paid for the food and the women cooked the meal and after dinner there was a dance. The Daily reported –
“After the race, the tables were set in the shell room and a corking dinner was served by the girls. Between courses the oarsmen bellowed forth (nautical term) the varsity songs, with ‘Tipperary’ as a finisher.” (The UW Daily, December 7, 1914)
Conibear thanked the community for its support and also commented on the women’s crew as follows –
“Coach Conibear recalled the days when the girls started to row in ’06, when they had to tramp through the snow to the old canoe club and row in a stationary boat under a leaky shed, from which all the water drained onto the rowers.
‘We owe everything we have,’ said Connie, ‘to our friends in the city. The ASUW pays the salary of the coach, but all our equipment has been given us. In the spring we are going to ask for new shells, for we are in urgent need of new equipment, and we hope that then we will have more men and women out.’” (The UW Daily, December 7, 1914)
In January, Dorothy Hess was named as the crew representative to the Women’s Athletic Association. And, while the women’s crew was waiting for the spring to begin rowing again, some of the women participated in basketball which was also coached by Ethel Johnson. In addition, Iola Quast, Fredricka Sully, Martha Davis, Helen Moomaw, Evelyn Flanley, Helen McFaul, Margaret Jackson, Aimee Michaelson and Gladys Lauthers won their honors for participating in women’s crew and were on their way to winning their “Big W”. (The UW Daily, January 19, February 3, February 19, 1915)
The women began rowing again in March 1915, and Coach Johnson planned to have separate classes for the new rowers. Miss Johnson also planned to have a co-ed regatta as part of Junior Day and was encouraged by the number of women turning out for crew. Her quote in The Daily conveys her feelings about the crew and its equipment–
“’There are so many girls and so much enthusiasm I think we can expect to do a great deal this spring,’ said Miss Johnson. ‘We are a little bit handicapped for shells, but so many brilliant plans for obtaining new shells have been proposed that our hopes are high.’” (The UW Daily, March 17, April 1, 1915)
The women were so excited and motivated at the prospect at getting a new shell of their own that they formed the “Co-Ed Boat Club” in order to manage the purchase. The Pocock brother’s shell would cost $250 and the women would be allowed to use the boat with a $50 down payment. Ethelyn Rounds became the president of the club, Ysabel Patton, secretary and Leah Barash kept the log book. The women also wanted to fix up their boathouse so that they could use it for a clubhouse.
“Committees to carry out the plans of the crew girls’ association are being appointed by the president, Ethelyn Rounds. The house committee will have charge of improving the crewhouse and giving it some semblance of a clubhouse. Jerrine Ramage is chairman, and the other members are Marquerite Irvine, Doris Meisner, Marjorie Wilson and Bessie Yerger
Another committee will endeavor to raise the money necessary to buy the shell recently built by the Pocock brothers. The girls’ first aim is to make $50 for a payment, so that they may have use of the boat. The committee is Jessie Grignon, Enola McIntyre, Fredericka Sully, Daisy Hasset and Aimee Watters, chairman.” (The UW Daily, April 14, 1915)
The women planned to participate in Campus Day and use that all campus event to furnish their boathouse in order to make it a “habitable clubhouse”. (The UW Daily, April 20, 1915)
In the midst of all of their planning, the women continued to train for the Class regatta. This year the women would form eights, and competition to make the class boats was strong. In May, in an illustration of the serious the competition to make a class boat, the entire junior class crew “decided to mutiny against a heavyweight cox, Ethelyn Rounds, who has coxed and coached the crew ever since its formation. Miss Rounds is anxious to turn out for a seat in the boat, and there is a fine opportunity for some more slender girl.” (The UW Daily, April 23, 1915) Based on line-ups reported in subsequent papers, Ethelyn Rounds did win a seat in the junior eight which most probably restored her wounded ego!
After several postponements due to inclement weather, the spring regatta finally took place on Lake Union on June 2nd. The women rowed in eights and the junior class crew won the regatta with a total of 84 and 5/6 points, the sophomore crew was second with 78 points, and the freshman and senior crews each received 77 and 1/6 points. The crews were different than the fall and included two notable additions to the sophomore boat, Clara and Hilda Knausenberger who were both excellent all around athletes and also competed on the track team. The judges included Art Campbell, a former UW coxswain, Paul McConihe, a current rower, and Fred Lind, a member of the Varsity Boat Club. The criteria for the form contests changed slightly for this regatta to give more weight to the rowing –
“The points were awarded according to a new schedule, giving twenty points for all rowing instead of ten, and five each for port and starboard rowing and backing instead of ten.” (The UW Daily, June 4, 1915)
The lineups for the 1915 Spring Regatta were as follows –
Class of 1915 (s)
Class of 1916 (j)
Class of 1917 (so.)
Helen Van Sant
Class of 1918 (f)
Coach Johnson praised the women after the regatta and stated that –
“It has been the most successful girls’ athletic event of the year. Girls’ crew seems to be assured now of a permanent place in the physical education department. Next year all these girls will be out again and most of their friends want to turn out, too.” (The UW Daily, June 4, 1915)
So, a full year of rowing came to an
end, and rowing for women once more seemed unshakable in the athletic culture of
the University. Rowing was a very popular sport and Ethel Johnson a vigorous
champion for the women.
On the docks in front of the Varsity Boat Club. Tyee photo.
The 1914-15 Fall Regatta "All-Star" Varsity eight: Coxswain, Edith Coffman, stroke, Jersis Buell, 7, Fredericka Sully, 6, Corneila Jenner, 5, Fannie Beyler, 4 Aimee Watters, 3, Enola McIntyre, 2, Aimee Michaelson, bow, Leah Barash. Tyee photo.
The UW Women’s Junior Class Crew at the 1914 Fall Regatta: Coxswain, Ethelyn Rounds; stroke, Bessie Yerger; 3, Aimee Watters; 2, Ethel Kraus; bow, Frances Maughlin. Tyee photo.
The start of the competition, the women preparing to place their oars into the oarlocks, then enter the boat together. All of this was judged on synchronization and form; "loading" was judged on a scale of 1-10 points. Tyee photo.
The finish of the competition, the women walking off in formation. "Unloading" was also judged on a scale of 1-10 points. Tyee photo.
The UW 1914 Fall Regatta Champion class of 1915 (seniors, in red and white striped blazers): Coxswain, Edith Coffman; stroke, Jessie Grignon; 3, Martha Garland; 2, Florence Rambo; bow, Leah Barash. Barash, senior captain from Seattle, was a science major, and active in the dance, reception, and social committees as well as the Women's League and the Home Economics Club. MSCUA photo: UW 3200.
Enrollment this year would remain close to the year before and about 4,055 students attended the university. Dr. Henry Suzzallo began his first year as President; and a new dean of women, Ethel Hunley Coldwell, arrived from Oakland, California. In January, President Suzzallo became the first person to talk across the United States from Seattle to New York on a Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company wire. (The UW Daily, January 31, 1916, University of Washington Catalogs, Special collections, 1909-1919)
The women’s “W” club met in September to elect officers for the school year. The club’s mission was “to create a broader bond of friendship among all women interested in athletics, to cooperate with the Women’s Athletic Association in its various activities, and to further a stronger sociable feeling among the women interested in college sports.” Two more rowers were initiated into the club, sisters Hilda and Clara Knausenberger. The criteria for acquiring a “W” had not changed, and the women were still “required to participate in six different interclass games to entitle her to a recommendation to the ASUW for a “W” sweater. “Regularity at practices, clean play while on the athletic field, conscientious effort on the part of the team members, are a few of the requirements to earn an honor, six of these (honors) entitling the holder to a varsity “W”.” (The UW Daily, September 24, 1915)
By the end of the first month of school eighty girls were signed up for crew. Seventy-three women signed up for field hockey and twenty-two for swimming making crew the most popular women’s sport on the campus. (The UW Daily, September 24, 1915)
“Women’s Crew Obtains New $250 Rowing Shell” was the headline on October 8th. The Board of Control granted the money needed and approved the purchase of the new shell. This shell would be for the women, but the men would be allowed to use it, and did on many occasions, when the women were not practicing. The purchase of a boat for the women was a big deal, and the Daily reported that –
“This is the first thing the women of the university have ever been given by the ASUW directly, in return for their $5, and although they have worked for many years this is the first headway they have gained.” (The UW Daily, October 8, 1915)
By the middle of October there were one-hundred and sixty women signed up to row. Most of them were freshmen, seventy-four, but the thirty-two sophomores and fifty-four juniors and seniors were ready as well. Women at the UW were also signing up for Hockey (one-hundred and twenty eight strong) and Swimming (seventy-eight strong). Any woman who wanted to participate in rowing was encouraged but lack of equipment became a problem as its popularity increased. (The UW Daily, October 12, 1915)
Coach Conibear had nine year old “Old Nero” replaced and the new version, which was twice as big, still only held sixteen rowers at a time. Some classes of freshmen women were over forty and Ethel Johnson stated that this meant that they had to take turns rowing during their regular practice time. Swimming was still a safety requirement, and that fall all of the women who took the compulsory swimming test passed. Ethel Johnson commented on the swimming by stating that “They have demonstrated more ability this year than ever before. They are splendid swimmers and Washington need be proud of them.” (The UW Daily, October 19, October 22, 1915)
Miss Johnson continued to coach several of the women’s athletic teams, and would continue to coach and be an advocate for the rowing team as was expressed by an article in late October.
“‘Women’s athletics will never again in the history of the University of Washington be thought of as a subject not worthy of consideration. They will from the present be looked on and thought of as the college women’s problem for future development.’ Such was the expression of opinion by Miss Johnson, coach of girls’ rowing teams at the university.
Rowing was until last year only a term used by the women with the hope that some time it might become a women’s real athletic sport and is this year proving to be the most popular of the women’s sports. One-hundred and sixty women this year are turning out for the rowing. The enthusiasm shown by the women is surprising to the physical training instructors. Miss Johnson, present crew coach, said she thought the turnout was remarkable, because the women must walk in clear or rainy weather free three-fourths to one mile to get to the lake. They must do this both going to rowing and returning while in the other sports the women do not go any distance, nor do they go out in bad weather.” (The UW Daily, October 28, 1915)
Training continued through the fall and the women held a form contest on December 7th, and with much excitement christened and launched their new shell aptly named the “1915 Co-ed”. A committee was formed to decide upon a name for the new shell and every woman at the university was encouraged to vote. The name was kept secret until Anne Baker, cox of the senior crew and captain of the varsity, broke a bottle of grape juice over the bow as the shell slid into the water. Just as today, there were purple and gold flowers (chrysanthemums in 1915) adorning the boat. A varsity all-star crew took the “1915 Co-ed” on her maiden voyage. (The UW Daily, November 19, December 1, December 6, 1915, and 1916 Tyee)
This all-star crew, made up of the best varsity rowers representing all four classes, rowed the new shell across Lake Union before the regatta.
Ann Baker (senior) Cox and Captain
Marjorie White (junior) Stroke
Cornelia Powell (sophomore) #7
Helen York (freshman) #6
Bessie Yerger (senior) #5
Ava Cochran (sophomore) #4
Vera Waite (junior) #3
Evelyn Goodrich (sophomore) #2
Ruth Entz (senior) Bow
Marion Southard, Linnea Soderberg, Leslie Davis (junior), and Marjorie Judy (freshman) were substitutes.
The regatta followed and the senior women were victorious with 80.6 points. The sophomores were second with 77.77 points, the juniors were third with 72.6 points and the freshmen last with 72 points. The “1915 Co-ed” was not used in the form regatta since it was much sleeker than the other boats, so it stayed on the shore for the competition. (The UW Daily, December 8, 1915) Another new point system, still based on a possible 100 points, was implemented and the women were judged on the following criteria:
“Twenty points count for the rowing of the boat, while the other eighty are allowed for filling the boat, starting out into the lake, handling of oars, backing, running, cox and landing.” (The UW Daily, December 6, 1915)
The judges for the regatta were Russell Callow, Art Campbell, Charlie Walker, Clyde Brokaw and Paul McConihe. (The UW Daily, December 8, 1915) The crews were as follows.
Class of 1916 (s)
Class of 1917 (j)
Class of 1918 (so.)
Class of 1919 (f)
The Captains for each of the class crews were: Seniors, Marian Southard; juniors, Leslie Davis; sophomores, Linnea Soderberg; and freshmen, Doris Bell. (The UW Daily, November 23, 1915)
The women spent the winter months participating in other sports, concentrating on their studies or campus clubs and activities. In March a women’s single sculling contest, to be held in the spring, was announced. (The UW Daily, March 24, 1916) Regular crew workouts began again on Monday, April 17th and over one-hundred women signed up to row. Miss Johnson lamented that, due to the late start because of the wet and cold spring, there would be less time to practice and that it would be difficult for some of the newer women to make a class boat. Golf was added to the list of women’s sports and less women turned out for crew because golf’s popularity. (UW Daily, April 19, 1916)
The winter months had been unusually cold, wet and difficult and a young co-ed, Miss Lea Petersen, drowned in Lake Washington on April 16th after falling out of an overcrowded canoe. As expected, the entire population of the University was very upset about the loss of a student; President Suzzallo banned paddling after dark, and there was a thorough review of the rules that governed canoeing so that this tragedy would not be repeated. (UW Daily, April 17, 1916)
The women continued to practice their rowing and sculling, however all interest in the sculling contest was lost once the line-ups for the eights were announced. Over one-hundred and thirty women had signed up to compete for a “Benton gold bracelet watch” in the singles contest, but many of those women won a place in a class boat and so dropped out of the single. Since they could not compete in both the singles contest and participate in the class boat regatta, the singles contest was canceled, illustrating the immense popularity of rowing in the eights and making a class boat. (The UW Daily, May 23, 1916)
The women’s spring rowing regatta was held June 1st on Lake Union, and the junior class boat won by less than one point with a score of 80 and 2/3 points. The freshmen were second with 80 points, the seniors third with 79 points and the sophomores finished last with 76 and 2/3 points. The judging criteria changed yet again and the women, judged by former Varsity Captain, Clyde Brokaw, and former rowers Max Walske and Paul McConihe, were awarded points based on the following:
Port rowing, port backing, starboard rowing, starboard backing
Loading boats, unloading boats, backing, coxswain general knowledge of the course, coxswain crew handling
Miss Johnson “expressed her approval
of the work done by the women who turned out for crew” that season and stated
that “I believe their work compares very favorably with that done by other crews
in former seasons.” (UW Daily, June 2, 1916)
Class of 1916 (s)
Class of 1917 (j)
Class of 1918 (so.)
Ina De Cann
Class of 1919 (f)
(UW Daily, May 15, June 2, 1916)
So, once again the spring season ended on a high note. The women had two regattas over the 1915-1916 school year and acquired their first shell. Women’s crew at the University of Washington again appeared popular and unshakable in the culture of women’s athletics.
The 1916 Spring Regatta victors: Juniors Aimee Michelson (cox), Clara Knausenberger (stroke), Hilda Knausenberger, Leslie Davis, Ellen Jollife, Gwendolyn Greene, Lucy Shelton, Gladys Lauthers, Vera Waite. Tyee photo.
The frosh. Tyee photo.
Coxswain Aimee Michelson, cox of the junior crew that won the 1916 Spring regatta with 80.6 points. The coxswain was an integral part of the competition due to the precision required by the judging standards. Tyee photo.
The 1916 spring senior crew. Tyee photo.
The victorious juniors. Tyee photo.
Camaraderie at the boathouse.
1916 can be considered the peak of early women's rowing at Washington:
over 160 women turned out for crew in the fall of 1915 - representing at least
10% of the female population on campus. Tyee photo.
setting the American record in the high jump (4 feet 10 inches).
She also held the record in the 100-yard dash (11.15 seconds), was captain
(center) of the basketball team her freshman year, and stroke oar of the winning junior class crew
in 1916. Her sister, Hilda Knausenberger, rowed behind Clara in the seven
seat of that crew - and also happened to be the American record holder in the 50-yard hurdles. Tyee photo.
1916 spring senior line-up. Tyee photo.
1916 spring senior line-up. Tyee photo.
1916 spring senior line-up. Tyee photo.
1916 spring senior line-up. Tyee photo.
The 1916 spring all-star varsity: Ann Baker, Cox and Captain, Marjorie White, Stroke, Cornelia Powell, #7, Helen York, #6, Bessie Yerger, #5, Ava Cochran, #4, Vera Waite, #3, Evelyn Goodrich, #2, Ruth Entz, Bow. Tyee photo.
The men’s boathouse was moved from Lake Washington to Lake Union in the fall of 1916 due to the start of the lowering of Lake Washington because of the near completion of the Montlake Cut. The enrollment of the university increased to 4,824 by the spring of 1917. Coach Conibear was on a six month vacation that began in June of 1916. He spent the summer going to watch the race at Poughkeepsie, studying the newest coaching methods, and visiting family. There is also some controversy surrounding this “vacation”. Please see the men’s history for more details. (UW Daily, September 19, 1916, University of Washington Catalogs, Special collections, 1909-1919, The UW Daily, September 20, 1916)
The Women’s Athletic Association (WAA) promised to continue to update the women’s boathouse with heat, showers and hot water, and agreed to use all of their saved money ($119) to complete the work by the spring of 1917. (UW Daily, October 4, 1916)
In what would be in hindsight a major blow for women’s rowing, Miss Ethel Johnson, the women’s crew coach since the early months of 1914, left the University over the summer for reasons unknown. In her three years of coaching, she had taken the rowing program from almost non-existence, just one year past the total ban, to the most popular women’s sport on the campus. The sporting women at the UW, and most especially the women’s crew, would miss her tireless dedication to sports. The women’s basketball teams stated their feelings for Miss Johnson this way:
“We, the girls of the sorority, independent, and varsity basketball teams wish to take this opportunity of publicly expressing to Miss Ethel Johnson, basketball coach, the sincere appreciation which they feel is due her for the untiring assistance she so kindly offered us during the recent series. She has generously and freely given without stint, both time and patience in our behalf.
The unlimited amount of “pep” and enthusiasm, which she has fairly radiated, must have to a degree been reflected in the girls themselves, for more keen interest and rivalry has been manifested this year by the competing teams than in any previous season. For her tireless efforts in our behalf, each individual girl feels that she owes the coach a debt of gratitude, which, in a measure, was expressed by the sigh of regret that was breathed as the final game marked the termination of our pleasant relationship on the basketball floor. (The UW Daily, March 24, 1916)
The 1917 Tyee Yearbook also praised Miss Johnson by saying:
“It is not in every college generation that a woman student makes two world records in athletic achievements (Clara Knausenberger); that the woman athletic instructor makes sports so attractive that 160 women will turn out for one sport – and that sport crew; and physical instruction for women be given entirely into the hands of women instructors by the university heads.
But the class of 1917 has always been favored in women’s athletics…From the entrance of the 1917 class, with the enthusiasm given it by Miss Ethel Johnson, instructor, it won every honor obtainable on the athletic field. To Miss Johnson the Women’s Athletic Association owes everything for the growth of athletics. At any time her services were needed she willingly gave them and frequently she coached the women from 7:00 in the morning until late at night. With her going went a large part of the sport enthusiasm, and the women who know her have missed her.” (1917 Tyee, page 112)
The Tyee goes on to welcome Misses Harrington and Pray, who became the instructors, and outlined their plans for the future of women’s athletics at the University.
“Miss Helen Harrington, who hails from Wellesley, and Miss Irene Pray, recently of Teachers’ college, Columbia, have started this year under Jessie B. Merrick, head of the department, with the idea of developing the gymnasium work and athletics to the highest possibility. They are especially enthusiastic over athletics and urge their advancement.
To this end they have decided that track is not a sport for women, and as a result there will be no more track meets in the history of women’s athletics at the University. In its place a spring hockey and probably indoor baseball will be supplemented. (The) Fall regatta will also be abolished as the practice the women can get in the wintry weather is not sufficient for holding one: this does not mean fall practice will be abolished…(please note that the Tyee was usually published in the spring, so the fall regatta for the 1916-1917 school year did in fact take place in 1916. There was no fall regatta in 1917.)
While the instructors are endeavoring to improve women’s athletics on the University of Washington campus, it might be well to note here that nowhere else in the United States have women’s athletics the high standard that they have had at Washington in the last few years.” (1917 Tyee, page 112)
It seemed that once again that the women athletes at the University were in for yet another change when Miss Harrington, who moved from Oakland, California where she held the position of director of physical education at the Oakland High School, was put in charge of coaching the women’s crew in the fall of 1916. (UW Daily, September 11, 1916)
By October, the women had begun to train for the fall regatta. There was some confusion with the registration deadline, and significantly fewer women signed up for rowing. In those days if a woman missed the registration deadline she was barred from participating in sports for the entire school year. So, there were only sixteen sophomores, ten juniors and twelve seniors vying for class boats and training from a boathouse that was now heated. There were no freshmen women rowing since once again the university implemented a rule than barred freshmen women from participating in anything but gymnasium floor work in their first semester. (UW Daily, October 10, November 2, 1916)
In addition, it was now the opinion of Miss Jessie Merrick, that “Athletes carry themselves awkwardly and are ungraceful as a rule, unless they have developed the poise and learned the immediate obedience to commands which regular gymnasium work teaches.” The gymnasium instructors still wanted to observe the women in the gym before they turned out for regular sports to see if they were capable of participating. (UW Daily, November 8, 1916)
It is also possible that the slow start for the women’s crew was due to the loss of Ethel Johnson and the fact that Conibear, the only constant presence at the university directly or indirectly involved in women’s rowing since 1906, was away until January. (UW Daily, September 14, 1916)
The women trained in “Nero” and The Daily described their progress after the first few days as follows.
“Water splashed and foamed, mud was dredged from the bottom of Union bay and Nero grew restless at his moorings yesterday afternoon when the junior crew girls pulled at their oars. In spite of Coach Harrington’s commands to ‘take it easy’ they put forth enough energy to propel a ferry or at least a boom of logs.
But at that the girls are progressing in good marching order. This week finishes their struggles with the scow dubbed Nero and next Tuesday they start practice in the barge with hopes of being promoted to the regular shells the following week if all goes well.
Commands to ‘feather oars’ and ‘slide seats’ now meet with quick response and Miss Harrington is more than hopeful for their future work. Form rather than speed is the special aim of her coaching, and for this reason she is trying to cultivate in the girls a sense of rhythm, perfect harmony between stroke and body motion. Arms must be shot out straight from the waist with a slow and even recovery, while to give a strong finish to the stroke the girls must lean back considerably beyond the perpendicular.
Among the principal don’ts upon which Miss Harrington lays great stress are these four: ‘Don’t slice, scoop, scrape or shoot your oars.’” (UW Daily, October 13, 1916)
The second annual fall regatta was held on November 22, 1916 on Lake Union and the senior class boat was victorious with a score of 78 points. The sophomores were a close second with 77 points and the juniors, who competed in a four instead of an eight, were last with 76 points. The judges included women’s athletic coaches Miss Merrick, Miss Pray, Miss Harrington, and two varsity oarsmen Morgan Van Wickle and Paul McConihe who followed the competition in the “Target II” coaching launch. The judging criteria were again slightly different and the women were judged on the following 100 point scale. (UW Daily, November 23, 1916)
Starboard backing, port backing, starboard stroking, port stroking
Loading the boat, unloading the boat, all stroking, all backing, coxswain, handling oars
The class boats were as follows: (UW Daily, November 23, 1916)
Class of 1917 (s)
Class of 1918 (j)
Class of 1919 (so.)
Registration for spring semester began in March and freshmen women were now allowed to participate and they signed up en masse for crew, baseball, hockey, golf and tennis. Rowing was again the most popular sport, although the numbers were not as high as the spring of 1916, and 39 freshmen, 13 sophomores, 4 juniors and 4 seniors put their names on the list.
The United States entered into World War I on April 6, 1917, and there was much discussion about whether or not to cancel spring athletics. It was finally decided to continue with the co-ed spring sports and to let the men’s crew continue with their planned intercollegiate competition against Stanford and the University of California. Athletics then moved to focus on intramural contests for the remainder of the school year. (UW Daily, April 11, April 16, 1917)
In response to the dropping of two women’s sports in the spring and fall of 1916, the “W” requirements were updated to reflect the change.
“The women’s athletics amendment, which provides for the awarding of the “W” to any woman who has made four numerals in at least two different sports, has been asked for by the Women’s Athletic Association because of the many new rulings made in the physical training department. The proposed amendment will be voted upon at the ASUW election Wednesday.
Up to the present time women have been required to make six numerals in at least three different sports before they were awarded a “W” and sweater. After making twelve numerals they received another “W” and on graduation the varsity blanket.
Last spring the department took away track from the women’s choice and this fall hockey was taken off the list of sports for numerals. The department claims the right to give or not to give numerals in regattas. This meant that some senior women would not be able to make the “W” and in one case the varsity blanket. It means that instead of any girl being able to make her “W” in her first years no girls could make it in her sophomore year save the one girl who made every team on the athletic field and won the championship in tennis.” (UW Daily, April 23, 1917)
By the end of April, ninety-two total co-eds were participating in crew, sixty-eight frosh, fifteen sophomores, five seniors and three juniors. The Daily stated that the senior and junior crews would be filled in with freshman and sophomore women in order to have boats in the spring regatta. There is never a reason given as to why there were so few seniors participating at times. It can only be surmised that they moved on to other activities or, seeing that they might not qualify for their “Big W”, sweater or blanket, decided not to participate their final year at the University. (UW Daily, April 26, 1917)
In May bleachers were set up in the Lake Washington canal, and the Junior Day regatta, which had evolved to include swimming and diving contests in addition to the canoe races, was held in the Montlake Cut for the first time. Later in the afternoon, the men’s interclass crew races were held on the same course through the Cut. The women’s crew did not participate in Junior Day that year probably because a new event called Field Day was planned. (UW Daily, May 4, 1917, p.1)
The first ever Co-ed Field Day was held on May 26, 1917. Hockey, baseball, rowing and tennis events were held and the women competed against each other in interclass competition. The Women’s Athletic Association sent letters to the local High Schools inviting young women in the area to the event. The WAA wanted these young women to be able watch the events and use their experience to help them decide what sport they wanted to participate in when they came to the university. The sophomore women won the baseball, hockey and crew events. (UW Daily, May 23, 1917)
Once again, the women were not judged on speed but how well they handled and rowed the boats. The criteria were the same as the spring regatta in 1916 and the sophomore women won with a score of 83 points out of a possible 100. The junior-senior four was second with 81 and 2/3 points, and the freshman finished third with a score of 79 and 1/3 points. (UW Daily, May 28, 1917, Tyees, 1917, 1918)
In addition to the crews pictured below, there were two other boats that participated in the spring regatta. The second freshmen boat included:
Elinor Clarke, cox
Violet Cochran, stroke
Florence Lee, 7
Daisy Spieseke, 6
Gertrude Tinling, 5
Velma Cochran, 4
Lillie Stevensen, 3
Gladys Jurgensohn, 2
Mildred McDonald, bow.
The winning sophomore crew included
Dorothy Dimock, cox
Lulu Keller, stroke
loise Ebright, 7
Mary Helen Whitlock, 6
Ruth Wright, 5
Laura Parsons, 4
Ruth Haslett, 3
Elsie Durr, 2
Emily Keith, bow. (UW Daily, May 28, 1917)
This would be the very last regatta that the women would participate in until the spring of 1969 – over fifty years later.
Hilda Knausenberger, Clara Knausenberger, Ann Baker, Marion
Southard, Mary Todd, Vera Waite, Clarice Canfield, Gertrude Schreiner and
Avadana Cochran (all rowers) were all awarded their Big W blankets after the
1916 season. The Tyee stated that “The first blankets (to the women) were given
this year and are a dark brown with the broad gold band across the top and
bottom and the gold “W” in the center. (1917 Tyee, page 119)
1917 UW women’s Senior-Junior Crew (From the 1918 UW Tyee): Anne Holmes, coxswain; Charlotte Wright; Stroke, Leslie Davis, 3; Vonia Winter, 2; Margaret Bliss, bow. Tyee photo.
UW women’s 1917 Freshman Crew, Class of 1920, (From the 1918 UW Tyee): Grace Garrett, Coxswain; Ruth Odell, Stroke; Lillian Frankland, 7; Grace Taylor, 6; Mildred McClung, 5; Charlotte Winter, 4; Catherine Thompson, 3; Marjorie Abel, 2; Harriet Reicheldorfor, bow. Tyee photo.
Hiram Boardman Conibear died on the morning of September 10, 1917 while picking fruit from his backyard plum tree. The headline on the front page of the afternoon edition of the Seattle Times read “H. B. Conibear is Killed When Bough Breaks”
“Plunging to the ground when a limb on a tree in his yard gave way while he was picking plums, Hiram B. Conibear, for eight years coach of rowing crews that have brought fame to the University of Washington, was killed at 6:45 o’clock this morning.”
Death was almost instantaneous. The only person who witnessed the fatal plunge was a child, Marie Cornwall, living in the rear of the Conibear residence.
The university coach had his bucket strapped to a limb and, according to the story told by the girl, he was stepping out near the end of a branch when it broke. As he was leaning forward, he plunged head first.
Mrs. Conibear was preparing breakfast in the kitchen of her home. She rushed outside. Dr. Charles Davis who lives less that a half a block away was summoned but Conibear died shortly after he arrived. Examination conducted by Coroner C. C. Tiffin showed that Conibear’s neck was broken.
News of the death threw a pall of deep mourning over the university campus and in Seattle sport circles generally. Probably no other athletic figure in the West was more admired and had such a large following as Conibear. He ranked among the best crew coaches in the country. …
His policy was to make as many athletes as possible and he leaves in his path a great number of performers who owe their athletic prowess to his efforts. Probably no other man at the university was more popular with the students than Conibear. (The Seattle Times, September 10, 1917)
The Board of Control hired Ed Leader to replace Conibear in October, and the men still attending the University continued to row although the spring intercollegiate races would be abandoned due to the war. Enrollment at the University dropped to 4,089 students. (UW Daily, October 5, October 16, December 4, 1917, January 31, 1918, University of Washington Catalogs, Special collections, 1909-1919)
The women did not row in the fall of 1917. The United States Navy took control of the University boathouses, including the women’s old Tokio Tea Room building, for use in training young men entering the Navy. In addition, the expansion of the university and the “unsettle conditions due to the war” necessitated the closing of many of the famous campus paths. One path closed was the portage path at the southern end of the campus. This path most probably led to the women’s boathouse since the women’s boathouse was on the southern end of the campus on Lake Union.. (UW Daily, October 11, 1917)
In October, 1917 it was announced that the Women’s League had adopted a new sports organization for women called “Sports for Sports Sake”. The women were encouraged to participate every day from four until six in a sport of their choice. Gladys Easterbrook, president of the Women’s League, stated that “The aim is to have every woman here turn out for some kind of sport each week and to make from 4 to 6 o’clock in the afternoon recreation hours.” The sports available to the women in this program were hockey, basketball, tennis and hiking including the “regular gymnasium classes in those sports.” (UW Daily, October 2, 1917)
The Tyee described “Sports for Sports Sake” this way:
“‘Sports for Sports Sake’ was a new idea originated by the Women’s League this year. Under the leadership of Helen Hill, who is now is in France, classes in hockey, basketball and baseball were organized. Girls majoring in the department of physical education took charge of the different classes and coached them. No credit was given for this work. However, the enthusiastic groups of girls who have been filling the gym all year speak well for the Washington girls’ love for sport for sport’s sake.” (UW Tyee, 1918, p. 72)
The Tyee went on to say about the women’s crew that:
“They say that every cloud has a silver lining. It looked rather dubious when the girls had to give up crew when the Naval Training Station was built on the golf course, thus shutting off the way to the old crew house. Many sighs were heard in memory of the good times spent with old Nero and the graceful Co-ed. However, the increased efficiency of other games has already made up for the loss of the crew, dearly as it was loved by the women.” (UW Tyee, 1918, p. 72)
During the autumn of 1917 and spring of 1918, the students at the University did what they could to help with the war effort. Sphagnum moss was a highly absorbent moss and was used in surgical bandages. Since this moss is found in abundance in the Northwest, the Red Cross asked for volunteers to gather and prepare bandages for the wounded soldiers. Groups of University men and women spent their free time gathering the moss and preparing bandages. Astronomy Professor Boothroyd was a member of the committee for Red Cross work and organized Saturday hikes to the “country” to collect the valuable moss. By April, the quota for sphagnum moss dressings made in the northwest was 500,000 dressings. (UW Daily, November 9, 1917, April 12, 1918)
The UW students took these responsibilities seriously and those who didn’t sign up for active duty did their part for the war effort. University men signed up for the infantry and many of the women became nurses or communication specialists. (UW Daily, January 4 and 8, 1918)
The students also gathered digitalis (commonly called foxglove) for the war effort. Digitalis is a powerful medicinal plant, used for heart ailments, and is also found in abundance in the forests of the Northwest. In January, 1918, the University College of Pharmacy sent the first shipment of six hundred pounds of digitalis to the army medical depots. (UW Daily, January 14, 1918)
In addition to gathering plants, the women of the University also knitted socks, sweaters and mufflers to give to those UW men who enlisted in the army. By the end of February the number of University of Washington men in service totaled more than 1,500. (UW Daily, February 7 and 18, 1918)
The second annual Field Day was held on June 3, 1918. The final doubles and singles tennis matches were held, and hockey and baseball games were played. The local High School girls were invited and all women of the University were encouraged to attend. There were no rowing events held for the women in the spring of 1918. (UW Daily, May 24, 1918)
Despite of the changes being made to women’s athletics, nine women earned enough honors to win their “Big W” in the spring of 1918. These nine included rowers Vera Waite, Gertrude Schreiner, and Ava Cochran. (UW Tyee, 1918, page 73)
A co-ed knitting socks for the war effort. Once the war began the campus rapidly depleted of men, and by 1918 life across the country had changed significantly. Tyee photo.
Hiram Conibear: A man before his time. Tyee photo.
By the end of 1919, enrollment at the UW would be up nearly 2,000 students to 6,007. The war ended on November 11, 1918, and the service men and women were expected home by the winter holidays. (UW Daily, December 2, 1918)
By January, the women’s sports of basketball, hockey, baseball and tennis were set to begin – however, rowing was not among the sports organized. (UW Daily, January 7, 1919)
It did look as if the women’s crew would be reorganized in February when the Daily reported that due to the return of the boat houses by the US Navy, crew “turnouts will be in order immediately” upon the hiring of a girl’s coach. However, spring quarter arrived with no word concerning rowing. The women’s sports available in the spring of 1919 included tennis, baseball and hockey. (UW Daily, February 17, April 3, 1919)
The 1918-1919 school year came to an end without a definite
plan to reorganize the women’s crew.
In October, 1919 an article in The Daily confirmed that there would be no women’s crew formed in the fall or winter quarters, but that there was hope it would be reorganized in the spring of 1920. By November the news was even more promising and an article entitled “Plan to Revive Women’s Crew” said in part –
“Frances Thompson and Florence Rogers were appointed to make a thorough investigation of the women’s athletic situation on the campus, with particular stress on the possibilities of reviving women’s crews. The attitude of the board (The Board of Control) was that a complete women’s athletic program must be installed as soon as is possible, with particular emphasis on the revival of a crew, even, if necessary, to the extent of chartering a course on Lake Washington and reserving it for the exclusive use of the co-eds.” (UW Daily, October 7, November 6, 1919)
The report on women’s athletics was delivered to the Board of Control, and Frances Thompson and Florence Rogers recommended doubling the women’s athletic field and enlarging the Field Day activities. There was no decision on women’s crew, but the hope was still alive.
“A complete survey was made of women’s athletics, and it was found that the A.S.U.W. has, is the past, spent more for the varsity ball, than for a whole year of women’s athletics. The budget for the former was $500 and for the latter was $475.”
The question of the women’s crew has had to be postponed until the return of President Suzzallo, in December.
The Board of Control erroneously stated that Suzzallo was “one of the committee that abolished crew for the women several years ago” since Dr. Suzzallo did not become President until July 1, 1915 and the women’s crew was abolished in the autumn of 1910. But, however flawed the reason, the Board stated that they thought the crew could not be “resumed until he (Dr. Suzzallo) has given his sanction to it”. (UW Daily, November 19, 1919)
Sadly, when women’s athletics were outlined for the school year in January, women’s crew was not among those sports planned, and there is no evidence that Dr. Suzzallo ever commented publicly about reestablishing women’s rowing.
“Women’s athletics for the coming year are centered around (sic) basketball, hockey, baseball, tennis, archery and field sports. Miss Mary Dever, women’s athletic coach and Miss Edith Rice, president of the Women’s Athletic Association, have (sic) outlined the program for the remainder of the year. The Pacific Northwest Athletic conference to be held at the University in May, will add a new element to the interest in athletics.
Basketball will take the time of all athletes for the winter quarter. Credit sections in the sport are already filled and ‘sport for sport’s sake’ sections are fast closing up.
In the spring quarter women athletes will be required to choose between baseball and hockey, as it is a rule of the department that a girl cannot receive a numeral – the reward for playing on a class team in any sport – in both these sports in one year. Miss Dever will coach both sports assisted by some of the physical education majors.
The teams will be chosen the latter part of May and the contests played off on Women’s Field Day, held about the first of June. Tennis championships will also take place on field day, both in doubles and in singles.
It is also the plan of the department to install women’s archery and to hold a match on field day. There will also be some field sports that day, among them the discus throw and the javelin throw.” (UW Daily, January 9, 1920)
There was no mention of the crew in this report. Then, in February, Miss Mary M. Dever, Women’s Athletic Coach, committed suicide. (UW Daily, February 26, 1920)
Miss Mary Gross took over as head of the department of physical education and by April six women’s sports were offered to the women. These six now included three new sports – archery (officially added spring quarter), track and volleyball in addition to the three sports already offered – basketball, tennis, and hockey. Women’s crew was overlooked again, and there is no further mention of plans to revive it. (UW Daily, April 13, 1920)
And so women’s crew at the University of Washington came to an end. It appeared to just slowly die out with no definitive reason as to why. After careful and thorough research it must be concluded that there was not just one reason why women’s rowing was discontinued.
The loss of Coach Ethel Johnson in the summer of 1916; the confusion in the coaching transition in the fall of 1916 when Edith Harrington took over; the apparent complete loss of interest and advocacy by the senior class; the United States entrance into WWI in April of 1917; Coach Hiram Conibear’s death on September 10, 1917; the commandeering of the boathouses by the United States Navy during the war and the closing of the campus paths that led to the women’s boathouse most certainly collectively caused the deck to be stacked against the women’s crew.
This combined series of circumstances made it logistically difficult and clearly impossible for the women’s crew to continue to thrive at the University of Washington. However, the key missing component most definitely had to have been the lack of an enthusiastic advocate. Conibear was gone and apparently not one of the women stood up to the University faculty and administration in support of the women’s rowing team. In addition, there is no evidence suggesting that the new men’s crew coach Ed Leader was interested or motivated to follow in Conibear’s footsteps and continue to support or advocate for the women’s crew.
As the decade of the 1920’s continued the “Sports for Sport’s Sake” philosophy of women’s athletics appeared to be a National trend promoted strongly by Mrs. Lou Hoover, future President Herbert Hoover’s wife. Mrs. Hoover was a past president of the Girl Scouts of America and became involved in the National Amateur Athletic Foundation. The NAAF was formed to discuss the division between those who wanted women to be allowed to compete in varsity elite sports and those who thought participation alone was sufficient. There was also discussion about whether or not women should be allowed to compete in the Olympic Games. Women did compete in the Olympics and first competed at the Paris Games in 1900 where nineteen women competed in three sports: tennis, golf, and croquet. http://www.northnet.org/stlawrenceaauw/timelne2.htm
Mrs. Hoover became a vice president of the NAAF and worked to organize the women’s division of the organization. This division wanted women to participate in sports for the enjoyment and development of good sportsmanship instead of competition.
By 1924, the Tyee yearbook summed up women’s sports at the UW thus:
Participation of as many women as possible in sports, not the development of a few champions, is the ideal in women’s athletics. To the coaches and members of the physical education department, who have given unsparingly of their time and energy, much credit is due for the development of wholesome, recreational athletic activity for women.
A well-developed intra-mural program, where the emphasis is placed upon playing for the sheer joy of playing and love of sports, gives opportunity for participation to a large percentage of Washington women. There are not intercollegiate matches except in rifle shooting.
In each sport at the close of the season, All Star teams are chosen on the basis of the highest type of sportsmanship and skill. “W” sweaters are awarded to women who have earned the requisite number of points, and stand for good sportsmanship, fine team play and ability in several sports. (Tyee, 1924, p.243)
Women’s participation in sports would continue to be debated during the next four or five decades, and the Great Depression and WWII would further define and redefine women’s roles in society. It would not be until the 1960’s and 1970’s that women would reorganize and begin to fight in earnest to regain the sports status that they enjoyed during the early part of the century. (http://www.lib.utexas.edu/etd/d/2004/graysw70830/graysw70830.pdf)
It would take a transfer student, Joan Bird from Mills
College in California, to bring new excitement, vision and energy in the quest
to reestablish women’s rowing at the University of Washington.
From the 1920 Tyee, the moon silhouettes a canoe on the lake. Tyee photo.
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