History & Highlights
The Philadelphia Girls' Rowing Club was founded on May 4, 1938, and is the oldest active women’s club of its kind in the United States. The clubhouse, located at 14 Kelly Drive on historic Boathouse Row in Philadelphia, was built in 1861 as the home to the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society. The Philadelphia Girls’ Rowing Club rented this building until they were able to purchase it in 1962. The original organizers of the Club were Ruth Adams Robinhold, Gladys Hauser Lux, Lovey Farrell, and Mrs. Ernestine Bayer, who chaired the organizational meeting of the Club at which thirteen additional women became the core founders. The Club was founded because none of the other boathouses on the Schuylkill would “allow members of the weaker sex” to join their clubs. In July 1939, the Schuylkill Navy agreed to host the first women’s race on the Schuylkill River, known as an “exhibition race”, which continued through the late 1950s before the women were welcome to race in other regattas. Three doubles competed in 1939, and Ernestine and her rowing partner Jeanette Waetjen Hoover won the first exhibition race.
The Women’s Eight from the Philadelphia Girls’ Rowing Club won the first National Women’s Rowing Championships in Seattle in 1966, and again in 1967 at Lake Merrit, California. They were the first American women’s rowing club to compete in the European Rowing Championships held in Vichy, France. This historic achievement was also the first time a women’s rowing club had represented the United States in any European race. To honor the occasion, then-Mayor James Tate presented the Philadelphia Girls’ Rowing Club with a key to the City of Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia Girls’ Rowing Club was permitted to join the Schuylkill Navy in the 1960s.
Carol Bower (left) and Joanne Iverson (below) are two current members of note who have raised the profile of women in the sport. Before joining the Philadelphia Girls’ Rowing Club, Carol won a gold medal for the Women’s Eight in the 1984 Olympic Games. Joanne Iverson was inducted into the NCAA Women’s Rowing Hall of Fame for organizing, along with Ted Nash and Ed Lickiss, the National Women’s Rowing Association. That group later became part of the National Association of Amateur Oarsman, presently known as the United States Rowing Association.
In 1984, Elizabeth Griffin Bergen was elected Commodore of the Schuylkill Navy.
Today, with eleven member clubs, the Schuylkill Navy has established Philadelphia as a leading venue in the rowing world, sponsoring many regattas and training recreational rowers as well as world-class Olympic competitors.
- 1938 -
The Philadelphia Girls' Rowing Club is founded by 17 women: Ernestine Bayer, Doris Starsmore Brugger, Sally Greeley Cibort, Lenore Mongan Davis, Lovey Kohut Farrell, Betty Flavin Ford, Kay McFarland Gillen, Jeannette Waetjen Hoover, Mary Prior Jonik, Helen Muldowney Kiniry, Gladys Hauser Lux, Eileen Coughlan Mockus, Lucille Browning Nino, Jeanne Murphy Quirk, Ruth Adams Robinhold, Marge Cantwell Sonzogni, & Betty McManus Wilkins.
- 1948 -
The Philadelphia Girls' Rowing Club marks its 10th anniversary with a club banquet.
- 1952 -
The Philadelphia Inquirer runs a story covering the success of PGRC's rowers in the club's 15th year.
- 1967 -
A team of rowers from the Philadelphia Girls' Rowing Club, affectionately dubbed the "Vichy 8," arrive in Vichy, France to race in the European Rowing Championships. It is the first time the United States has sent a women's rowing team to compete in an international regatta.
In recognition of the club's accomplishments, the Mayor of Philadelphia honors PGRC with a "Key to the City."
- 1973 -
Marge Flynn organizes the first Bill Braxton Memorial Regatta with the help of Tom Rafferty and Vince Bindo. Today, proceeds from the annual Braxton Regatta make it possible to fund scholarships given to entering college freshmen.
- 1981 -
Elizabeth Griffin Bergen is elected Commodore of the Schuylkill Navy. She serves in the position for two years.
- 1984 -
A reunion event brings together several founding members and alumni of the club. Pictured on the deck of the club: Helen Kiniry, Stella Peters, Jeanne Quirk, Lorraine English, Mary Jonik, Jeannette Hoover, Lovey Farrell, Betty Wilkins, Doris Brugger, Betty Ford, Claire Eisner.
- 1998 -
May 1 & 2
PGRC celebrates its 60th anniversary.
Many former members and six of the club founders attend.
Special tribute is paid to founding member Ruth Robinhold. Not only had she been an active member for all 60 years; her constant and generous support of PGRC was an inspiration to the entire club. A new trophy in her name is announced, which is thereafter awarded annually at the Stotesbury Regatta to the Girl's Junior Quad, one of Ruth's favorite events.
- 2002 -
PGRC founder Ernestine Bayer and her husband, Olympic oarsman Ernest Bayer, are added to the Friends of Rowing History site to document their roles in the history of American rowing.
- 2007 -
Member Joanne Iverson is inducted into the NCAA Women’s Rowing Hall of Fame for organizing, along with Ted Nash and Ed Lickiss, the National Women’s Rowing Association. That organization later became part of the National Association of Amateur Oarsman, presently known as the United States Rowing Association.
- 2008 -
PGRC celebrates the 70th anniversary of its founding with a party at the clubhouse.
- 2011 -
Lisa Fittipaldi, club secretary, delivered to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania 35 boxes and three presentation binders of history from before 1938 to 2011. The collection documents the club’s activities from its founding until the present. It includes constitutions, bylaws, meeting minutes and notes, correspondence, financial records, membership and dues records, boat logs, scrapbooks, photographs, property records, engineers’ reports, architectural drawings, grant applications, newsletters, event programs, books, clippings, CDs/DVDs, artifacts, and medals. There is some documentation of other rowing organizations, especially the National Women’s Rowing Association.
- 2012 -
Hidden City Philadelphia featured PGRC in an article, "Epic Little Boathouse Looks to the Future", telling the story of the clubhouse and its role in the history of both Philadelphia and women's rowing.
To celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the clubhouse at 14 Boathouse Row, PGRC and the Philadelphia Skating Club & Humane Society (PSC&HS) jointly held a commemorative celebration. Honored guests included Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, PGRC co-founder Ruth Robinhold, and the 1967 "Vichy Eight," the first U.S. women's crew to compete internationally.
- 2013 -
The club celebrates its 75th anniversary.
- 2015 -
The Stampfli Express - at 144 feet, the world's longest rowing boat - visited Philadelphia as part of its U.S. East Coast tour. Sponsored by Swissnex Boston, the Stampfli boat company invited Schuylkill River rowers to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime chance to row a 24-seat boat. Tom Barron of University Barge Club captured PGRC members on video as they rowed the Express alongside other participants on the Row.
Against the backdrop of the Summer Olympic Games in Rio, author Dotty Brown publishes "Women's rowing first made waves in Philly," a Philly.com editorial. The story highlights PGRC's role in fostering women's rowing in the United States.
Newsworks (WHYY) journalist Jennifer Lynn interviews PGRC member Carol Bower about her experience as a 1984 gold medal-winning Olympian. The piece includes a complete audio interview.