Back to Home

I went to Wellesley College, but didn’t row despite the school’s historic rowing program dating from 1875. At the time, I thought I’d develop too many muscles and no guy would go out with me. (That notion really dates me!).

Rowing at Wellesley in the 19th century and many years after was about grace and music and poetry. (I have blogged about Wellesley’s rowing history here:

A surprising account of this early history of women’s rowing can be found in the new Wellesley College magazine.

As the article states, Wellesley’s founder, Henry Fowle Durant, bought three boats for the all-women’s school in 1875 at a time when there were 316 students. Although Harvard and Yale had begun their fierce rivalry on the water two decades previously, Durant had a different idea for women.

“A fervent believer in the mind-body health benefits of vigorous exercise, Durant insisted on a daily hour of outdoor activity for students. But Wellesley’s first oarswomen were selected for their singing voices, as during the College’s first two decades, these rowers’ primary purpose was to entertain the College’s guests. Attired in elaborate boating costumes, the rowers sat primly side by side in pairs on immovable seats and pulled their oars with restrained, ladylike exertion.”

And who was the first guest to be rowed by the Wellesley women? Someone Durant admired for his poetry:

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

And what was the name of one of those three 1875 boats? None other than the name of Longfellow’s poem: “Evangeline.”

Take a look at the whole story in Wellesley’s magazine. It’s fascinating.