“The rowing of women upon the lake”

Archival Moment

August 15, 1856

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. Bowring’s Ladies Championship Crew St. John’s Regatta, 1949.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. Bowring’s Ladies Championship Crew St. John’s Regatta, 1949.

The local St. John’s newspaper, The Newfoundland Ledger on August 15, 1856 reported on a first for women at the Regatta.  The paper reported:

 “One novelty attracted some attention, the rowing of women upon the lake in two gigs, a practice hitherto not adopted in St. John’s.” 

And indeed it must have been a novelty, in 1856 the role of women in society was much different than it is today. Rowing would have been almost unthinkable and completely beyond normal convention. Yet these women risked criticism and ridicule to participate in the Annual St. John’s Regatta.

The race was the 5th and final one of the second day of the Regatta. Two crews entered – a crew of Quidi Vidi women in the “Darling” and a women’s crew from the Battery  (Southside) in the “Banshee”. These were both six oared gigs.

The Quidi Vidi women won,  the crew members were: Ellen Walsh (stroke); Mary Brace; Jennie King; Lizzie Hauton; Crissie Squires; and Jessie Needham. Robert Hennebury was the coxswain.

It was almost another century before women participated again in the St. John’s Regatta.

In 1941, members of the American military took part in the races, including crews of WAF (Women in the Air Force). Further initiatives to include women in the races were rebuffed.

A 1945 newspaper column “Notes on the Regatta” reported the decision of the Regatta Committee not to include a “Ladies’ Race” in the Victory Regatta. In 1949, the decision was overturned, and four crews of women competed in the historic event. The spectators gathered to cheer the women on numbered well over 8,000, one of the largest crowds reported at Quidi Vidi Lake.

In terms of numbers, women now dominate the St. John’s Regatta.

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Rooms Provincial Archives Division take some time to look at  “The Rowing”  Series  which consists of 212 b&w photographs predominantly of the Royal St. John’s Regatta races and crews, The photographs include team portraits, races underway, presentation of awards and views of the people along the shore of Quidi Vidi Lake.  Search the Archives: https://www.therooms.ca/collections-research/our-collections

Recommended Museum: Special tours and visitation to the Royal Regatta Museum are available upon request. If you wish to make a special appointment to visit the Museum, please call the Boathouse at: (709) 576 – 8921.

Recommended tune (Listen): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNVQdwzMKpA