It’s more than appropriate that the U.S. Postal Services’s new Women’s Rowing stamp will be officially issued at 11 a.m. Friday, May 13 at the Philadelphia Girls’ Rowing Club. (See below for details)
Besides being the oldest competitive women’s rowing organization in the United States, PGRC also figured prominently in the push to make women’s rowing an Olympic sport — something that finally happened in 1976, eight decades after it was a male Olympic sport.
Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club was formed in 1938 by a group of intrepid secretaries and clerks who wanted a spot on Boathouse Row where the all-male culture had dominated for more than a century.
But this “manly sport,” as it was then called, had no place for women. It was seen as unseemly for a Victorian-era woman to participate in one of the most demanding of athletics. When PGRC first started, it was chided as being a “marital club,” there only to find husbands on the Row. During the city’s many famed regattas, they did not race because there were no other women’s clubs in the city — or in the country — to compete against. Instead, they led the opening of the regattas, coming down the river as “exhibition rows.”
To encourage neophyte women’s programs train and compete, a young Philadelphian, Joanne Wright Iverson, formed the National Women’s Rowing Association with two male coaches from the West Coast. After several years of national races, dominated by PGRC, they believed they were ready compete in Europe. It was only through a direct appeal to the head of FISA (the international rowing group) that PGRC women were allowed to go in 1967. Story about it here.
It thus became clear to John B. Kelly Jr. of the Vesper Boat Club (son of the Olympian John B. Kelly Sr. and sister of actress Grace Kelly) that women’s rowing would soon become an Olympic sport. Quietly, he brought a handful of women into his club to train. In 1976, several women from Boathouse Row competed in those first Olympics
In recent years, American women — many of them training in college through the benefit of Title IX — have dominated world rowing, winning medal after medal. And it started here in Philadelphia.
|The May 13 stamp launch ceremony begins at 11:00 AM EDT at the Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club, 14 Kelly Drive, Philadelphia, PA. Stamps will be available for sale until 2 PM (or until sold out). |
Speakers include Sophie Socha, President of the Philadelphia Girls’ Rowing Club; Amanda Kraus, CEO of the United States Rowing Association; Elizabeth Milroy, Professor Emerita of Art History at Wesleyan University; Brannon Johnson, Founder and Head Coach of BLJ Community Rowing; and Ethel Kessler, the Postal Service’s Art Director for the Women in Rowing stamps.