Anne Boyle Gilmartin
She Raced in the 1950s
On a recent night, when I was talking about my book at the new Narberth Book Shop, Anne Boyle Gilmartin turned up. Now in her 80s, she is as enthusiastic about the Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club (PGRC) as she was as a teenager back in the 1950s.
She reminisced with me about those days, when PGRC –the first competitive rowing club in the country — was still struggling to find women to row against.
“I heard about rowing and thought, ‘that sounds interesting,’ Anne told me as we sat in her Drexel Hill, PA home, sparkling with holiday decorations. What followed was nothing but fun and laughter. She made friends. She flirted. She got great coaching. And she traveled. “We raced on the Potomac, in Boston, in New Rochelle, N.Y.,” she said, showing off her medals. And she competed in the first major races that PGRC had against a serious women’s team, in 1956 against Florida Southern in Lakeland.
According to research I did for my book, PGRC competed against a sorority team. A Lakeland, Fla. newspaper called the match-up historic — the day “women took over man’s traditional eight-oared shell and launched intersectional competition.” Anne rowed that day with Ernestine Bayer, widely called the “mother of women’s rowing,” and a founder of PGRC in 1938.
By 1956, the intrepid Ernie was 47 years old “and not to be dissuaded from racing, despite criticism that she was too old,” I wrote in my chapter on women’s crew. PGRC lost, but only by a foot.
Anne remembers being coached by Tom Curran, a champion rower of the 1930s who by the 1950s was also leading La Salle College crew to victory. “He was a rogue,” she said, laughing, as she remembered “the Bear.” But he was tough, too. “If you didn’t dance the way he fiddled, you were in trouble,” she said.
Eying the photo of Curran coaching a men’s eight on page 116 in my book, she spied Romeo Boyd and swooned. Sounding like Shakespeare’s Juliet, she recalled calling out to him: “Romeo….Oh, Romeo…” “He’d take me and throw me in the water. We just had fun.”
(Published Dec. 18, 2016)