Aberystwyth University Ladies’ Rowing Group

On this final day of Women’s History Month, I thought it might be fun to turn to the realm of sport.  This photograph came to me from Wales.  It has nothing written or printed on it.

Update, April 4: This morning I came across another copy of this image on a blog post titled Pulling Against the Stream: Historic Images of Women’s Rowing.  The women are identified as members of the Aberystwyth University Ladies Rowing Group [sic].  (I decided to add an apostrophe after Ladies in the title of this post.)  Two more photos of the group, taken in different years, can be seen on another page on the same website: From Ridicule to Respect: Some Images of Women’s Rowing.  I’ll see what else I can find out about them!

I assume the man standing with the women is a coach.  At first I also assumed that they must have rowed together in a single boat, called an eight, but in that case their coxswain would probably have been included in the photograph as well.  If anyone knows about rowing, please weigh in.  Also, what is that contraption the two women in the center are holding?

The back of the photo has another portrait glued to it.  This young lady doesn’t appear to be in the group above:

Women's rowing team (UK) 2


I have to say, their outfits don’t look very suitable for rowing, with the exception of their boater hats!

Women's rowing team (UK) 3



46 thoughts on “Aberystwyth University Ladies’ Rowing Group

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  1. I don’t know anything about rowing but these women look confident. They could have used those oars as weapons. The outfits and hats seem more suitable for a picnic. Perhaps they dressed this way just for the photo.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The woman holding an oar in the back, second from right, looks very determined. Either that or she was just having fun. Regarding their outfits, I should look for photos to compare this one to, but I think these are the clothes they actually rowed in, or something very similar. Somehow they made it work. Nice to hear from you, Jo Nell!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I tried rowing crew briefly in college and found it difficult and stressful (in an eight). As far as I’m concerned, doing it at all is an achievement! I later tried rowing in a pair (a boat for two people), and found that more enjoyable.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. For some reason, basketball was considered more appropriate for women than other sports. In addition to school teams, there were club competitions. I don’t know if anything analogous was true for rowing. Happy Easter, Liz!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I was also thinking the girl in the separate photo is probably the woman seated on the far left, but quite a few years younger in the individual portrait (and some pounds lighter, too – maybe rowing put some meat on her bones😁).

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I sure hope they do not row in those clothes. I enjoy dragonboat paddling a lot but I would hate it if I had to wear these! Also the look on the women’s faces are so diverse and interesting. Ah, to know what they are thinking!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I fear that they really had to row in those clothes! I’ve seen pictures of women engaged in athletic pursuits in similar clothing.
    I think the contraption they are holding is the rudder bar. It goes perpendicularly on top of the rudder fin, so that pulling on the strings moves the bar, which in turn moves the fin.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, that makes sense! Although I’m still a little baffled as to why they included it in the photo.

      I enjoyed your post about Edith Reynolds. In a bit of a coincidence, I had just been researching the Brondesbury Manor House School, after purchasing some photos that were taken there in 1899. The school was founded in 1871 by Miss Margaret Clarke (1833-97) and her sister Catherine. Margaret had studied at the Clergy Daughters School at Casterton, then at a convent school in Oxford which was run by the Sisterhood of Holy Trinity. She was then invited by Dorothea Beale (who had been superintendent at Casterton in 1857) to join the staff at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, which she did from 1860 to 1865. So she might have taught Edith and Julia Reynolds if they were studying at Cheltenham at that time. (All information from North Yorkshire History blog.)


    1. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time that someone used a prop to make a joke! Another commenter said it looks like a rudder bar. The coxswain would pull on the ropes to turn the rudder and steer the boat. You get lots of points for creativity, though! I look forward to visiting your blog!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. All I know is, looking at the expressions on the faces of most of those women, and the way the one is holding the oar in the back row, right side, I want to hang with them! I want to be on their team! If they had to row in those dresses, it’s no wonder they were tough and bold.

    Fun photo, Brad!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder if they knew each other before they joined the team, or if rowing brought them together. I wonder if they worked hard and bonded as a team, or if it was more of a casual activity. I wonder if they stayed in touch after they graduated (assuming they were in college). The photo offers some hints about their personalities, but it doesn’t provide any clues about their relationships with each other.


  6. What an oarsome photo (sorry). And cleverly timed to fit in with the Oxbridge boat race this weekend..

    The assertive, arms folded pose of the lady on the right is quite unususal for this time. When her mother saw this, she would have thought it was ‘unladylike’, perhaps. But the times were changing, the WSPU being founded about this time (1903). I have no doubt that some or all of these women became ‘Suffragettes’ and fought for the right to vote.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, what an oarful pun! And you give me too much credit on the timing, as I had no idea the Oxbridge race was this weekend!

      On a more serious note, your comment spurred me to look for any connections between women’s rowing and the suffrage movement. I haven’t found any yet, but in the process of scrolling through historical images, I found another copy of this very photograph! It’s on a page titled Pulling Against the Stream: Historic Images of Women’s Rowing. The women are from the Aberystwyth University Ladies Rowing Group. I’ll update the post now (provisionally) and see what I can find out about them later today. Many thanks, Michael!


      1. You are very welcome !

        The 1916 photo of the crew appears to have the same coach, so he had no fear of ridicule by association. It also has a similar pose, with someone holding the rope from the top of the tiller.

        I’m thinking that you could send your other fantastic photo of the Isle of Wight oarswoman to that website. It may help to settle the raging controversy regarding canoe vs. ferry !

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I also thought that the coach looked like the same man, although he looks noticeably older in the 1916 photo.

        I had the same idea you did about contacting the website. In fact, I emailed them exactly a year ago, on April 4, 2020. Someone there looked at the photo of the young lady from Ryde and informed me that she was holding a paddle, not an oar. He said he would forward the scan to one of their historians, but I never heard from anyone there again. So, the controversy rages on!


    1. The more I think about it, these outfits may have been reasonably practical considering the standards of the day. They don’t look sporty to us, but they may have been loose enough to allow a range of motion without a lot of extra material to get in the way. The main challenge would be to keep the skirts out of the way while the seat is sliding forward and backward.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What a great photo! When my place overlooked the water, I got to watch rowers and scullers on weekend mornings. I’m pretty sure the gizmo that’s front and center is the tiller: the cable that attaches to the rudder. As for the clothes, they wouldn’t do so well for sailing, but I think they’d work all right for rowing — at least, if you were agile about getting into and out of the boat.

    I definitely wouldn’t want to offend a couple of those ladies. They look like they mean business!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder how much guff they had to put up with? In the 1890s, not everyone would have approved of women engaging in a sport, let alone in an elite sport that had a long history of being exclusively male (unlike roller skating or basketball). Thanks for the great comments, Linda!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Belle photo ! Concernant les vêtements de ces sportives , je pense que les tenues adaptées au sport n’étaient pas encore au goût du jour . Vous pouvez voir des photos de femmes pratiquant le ski alpin dans une tenue pas très adéquate 😉
    Bonne semaine .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You make an excellent point, Pierrette! Women had no specialized clothing for most sports. One exception was equestrian apparel. If form-fitting outfits were acceptable for riding, why not for other activities? Thank you and have a great week!


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