Sunday, December 18, 2016

Anne Boyle Gilmartin: A Pioneer of Women's Rowing

When she was Anne Boyle 

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 rowing and 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.
Anne's 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 the research I did for my book, PGRC raced 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 (a photo I wrote about on my Boathouse Row website), 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."


Anonymous said...

What a fantastic article on Anne "Boyle" Gilmartin. Please do a follow-up on these great woman pioneers of rowing(PGRC)... they deserve accolades !!! I never knew this... Thank you for bringing this to light. Any other stories ??

Dotty Brown said...

Thanks for wanting more pioneer women rowing stories. I'm writing more on the page for my new book
Or follow my page on facebook--also called boathouserowthebook

Anonymous said...

Very nice article and a good read! I would love to hear more about these women. Will you be pairing up with the PGRC to write some more stories?