Newton Investment Management have commissioned an animation of a simplified history of the Women’s Boat Race to commemorate the move to the Tideway in 2015.
The Women’s Boat Race, between crews representing Oxford and Cambridge Universities was founded in 1927, nearly 100 years after its male counterpart. The first race was held on the Isis in Oxford, with (according to The Times) “large and hostile crowds gathered on the towpath” as the men objected to women rowing. Initially, Cambridge was represented by a crew from Newnham College but when Girton College students joined them on the river, the CUWBC was founded and the Club first raced the OUWBC in 1941.
The first few “races” were not decided in a side by side contest but were judged on “time and style” with the two crews not even allowed on the river at the same time. From 1935 the races became proper contests over 1000 yards or a 1/2 mile, alternately held on the Cam and Isis, with one occasion on the Thames Tideway at Barnes.
Blues and opposition
From 1941 onwards, the crews were awarded ‘Blues’ by their respective universities, and the race was generally well supported, though an incident with a weir the day before the 1953 race led to the OUWBC being banned from the river and a hiatus in racing until 1964. Male opposition to women rowing was still rife during the mid-60s:
I personally do not approve of women rowing at all. It is a ghastly sight, an anatomical impossibility and physiologically dangerous.
However, this extreme view was not universally held and Canon Duckworth of Churchill College (an old Blue himself) gave the women much needed support at Cambridge, coaching the Blue Boat (whom he referred to as Perspiring Persephones or Swetty Bettys) to an impressive run of success.
A home in Henley
Once the Oxford and Cambridge colleges started to become co-educational in the early 1970s, the future of the women’s race was assured. After 1975 there was sufficient strength in depth to field a regular race between reserve crews: Osiris for Oxford and Blondie for Cambridge. The two women’s races joined the Lightweight Men’s race in Henley in 1977 creating the Henley Boat Races and a Lightweight women’s race followed in 1984.
Move to the Tideway
A new chapter awaits the Women’s Boat Race in 2015 when it will be raced for the first time along the 4 miles and 374 yards Championship Course on the Tideway in London, between Putney and Mortlake, on the same day as the men’s University Boat Race.
Moving the women’s race to the Tideway was a huge team effort and the result of many influential people working together. The idea had originally been mooted several years previously, but at that time there was insufficient momentum or funding to make it a reality. By 2012, the combined support of the Vice Chancellors of both universities, Robert Gillespie of the Boat Race Company, alongside political support from Dame Tanni Grey Thomson, a commitment from the BBC to televise the race and, critically, the financial support of Newton Investment Management, the wheels were finally set in motion.
Annamarie Phelps and Rachel Quarrell, respectively for Cambridge and Oxford, were closely involved in the negotiations. Newton brought BNY Mellon (their parent company) to the table as potential sponsors of the men’s race and the two men’s clubs were important advocates in demanding equal funding for the women’s clubs. Helena Morrissey, Newton’s CEO and founder of the 30% Club (a group committed to increasing the number of women on top UK corporate boards), felt that the values of rowing were in close alignment with those of the company and saw the Women’s Boat Race as a good investment where Newton would not only provide financial support, but could ultimately make a real difference to the event.