Rowing and Sculling: a Difference of Gender?

When I bought my copy of Edith Morley’s reminiscences from Two Rivers Press, I never expected it to contain so much humour. Among the most amusing anecdotes are tales of Morley’s early sporting experiences playing hockey or ‘bicycling’.

This is yet another area in which Morley was a pioneer –  the 1890s was still a time when women were discouraged from taking part in sport or vigorous exercise. As she said herself:

‘[We] were … perpetually instructed that women’s bodies were not adapted by nature to strenuous exertion. Nor had it altogether ceased to be considered a mark of refinement to be “delicate” and to possess feet and hands that were disproportionately small and correspondingly useless…’ (‘Before and After’, pp. 60-61).

Although Morley gives an account of her membership of the King’s College Hockey Club and the Bicycle Club, she never mentions boating in any form, whether rowing or sculling. So when I noticed in the College Calendar of 1905-6 that the Secretary of Women’s Sculling was a certain Miss Morley, I doubted whether it was THE Miss Morley. But the following year initials were included (see image) and there was no mistaking her. Further investigation revealed that she held the post from 1904 until 1907.

The College Calendar 1906-7, p. 267, showing Edith Morley as Secretary of Women’s Sculling.

But why in the above extract is rowing for men and sculling for women? Surely the difference lies not in the matter of gender, but in whether a single rowing oar or two sculls are used to propel the craft.

Reports from the Athletic Club submitted regularly to the  College Magazine show that, while the men’s rowing reports between 1904 and 1908 gave lengthy detail about names and weights of crews, training, technique and competitions, the corresponding Women’s Sculling Section had extremely brief entries containing none of the above. Rather, they were preoccupied with membership, swimming tests and even picnics by the river. There is even a mention of punting.

The early ups and downs of Women’s Sculling can be traced in the Magazine like this:

  • 1904, Spring Term, Issue 1, p. 17:  Edith Morley records the founding of the Women’s Sculling Section. She notes that, ‘Regular practices will begin as soon as swimming tests have been surmounted, and schemes for picnics and river parties are also under discussion.
  • 1904, Spring Term, Issue 3, p. 18:  Morley complains that, ‘There has been so much slackness about submitting to the swimming test, that the captain is beginning to have doubts whether the proposed picnic will be able to take place this term.’
  • 1904, AutumnTerm, Issue 2, p. 16:  things are looking up! There are now 18 members and Morley states that, ‘some pleasant pulls have been had on Thursday afternoons.
  • 1905, Winter Term, Issue 2, p. 22:  between 10 and 12 women turn out every week. However, ‘It is rumoured that many people would like to join the club, but are unable to swim.‘ Swimming tests are planned for early next term (this entry is by B. M. Willmer, the Captain).
  • 1905, Autumn Term, Issue 1, p. 23:  a large number of students sign up for the club but unfortunately few can swim. Prospective members are urged to learn as soon as possible.
  • 1906, Winter Term, Issue 2, p. 23:  ‘The club has been unable to meet this term on account of the rule that members must pass a swimming test….’ The rule is amended so that a letter from ‘someone in authority‘ can attest to swimming prowess.
  • 1906, Spring Term, Issue 3, p. 24:  a successful swimming test has taken place and there are now ‘twelve quite enthusiastic members‘.
  • 1907, Spring Term, Issue 3, p. 21:  a daring development! ‘Some members are to vary sculling by occasional punting. This will prove a lively diversion as no one is efficient at present.
  • 1907, Autumn Term, Issue 1, p. 32:  the Sculling Section welcomes a Miss Ashcroft as a member. As no other new members were mentioned by name, I believe this was Lucy Ashcroft, Lecturer in Mathematics, who became the Censor of Women Students in 1911.
  • 1908, Spring Term, Issue 3, p. 30:  progress! There are now 30 members. Flooding of the Thames is the only problem.

From the above, which includes all the references to the Women’s Sculling up to Spring 1908, it is clear that racing played no part at all in the early days of women’s boating at Reading. This was confirmed nearly a decade later by a letter from Professor Childs to fellow college principals and vice-chancellors in which he wrote that, ‘such competitions as have taken place among women have been confined to tests of style and general efficiency‘.

Surprisingly, there is no mention of the ability to swim or of swimming tests in the notes from the Men’s Rowing Section!

In the next post I will show how Edith Morley’s expertise in this area was put to good use a decade later when the Principal set up a Committee of Inquiry into whether boat racing was a suitable activity for women students.

By Contrast:  Sculling in 2011 (University of Reading Imagebank)
Sources

Childs, W. M.  Letter to college principals and vice-chancellors, 9th October 1917. University of Reading Special Collections, Uncatalogued papers, Reference UHC AA-SA 8.

Morley, E. J. (2016). Before and after: reminiscences of a working life (original text of 1944 edited by Barbara Morris). Reading: Two Rivers Press.

The Magazine of University College Reading, issues from Spring Term 1904 to Spring Term 1908. 

University College Reading, Annual Report and Accounts, 1911-12.

University College Reading. Calendar, 1905-6, 1906-7 & 1910-11.

The College Boat Club at Reading 1902-3

The recently published booklet ‘A History of Sport at University of Reading 1992-2018‘ was designed by Chris Lewis with research by Dr Margaret Houlbrooke. It records the foundation of the College Boat Club in 1895 that later became the Reading University Boat Club, and documents outstanding achievements in rowing and sculling by its many distinguished members, male and female.

As this and the following two posts will show, the history of boat racing at Reading was a gendered one from which women were excluded for many years. For the men, on the other hand, the foundations of competitive success were in place relatively early, although sometimes it may have been necessary to provide a bit more motivation.

In the ‘Spring’ Term of 1902 (our Summer Term: see note below), the section of the Reading College Magazine devoted to men’s rowing lamented:

‘Where are the Wet-bobs of the College, those who urged the need of a Rowing Section, and gave the scheme real support? Four boats—a Four, two Pairs, and a Tub-pair, are at the service of all who aspire to aquatic fame, and yet some half-dozen is the total of those who register the attendance at the river, and, to some of these, a slight cold, the prospect of a shower, or a little stiffness in the joints is sufficient excuse for shirking.’ (p. 17)

By the following autumn things had obviously improved because the newly titled ‘Magazine of University College Reading’ reported (p.17) that there was a prospect of a viable ‘four’, and that:

‘a goodly muster of enthusiastic men pay their tribute to Father Thames.’ 

‘Rowing Notes’ for Spring 1903 mentioned that a Coxed Four was in training and making good progress. Competitive events were planned and there were hopes of obtaining a coach from Oxford. Progress continued in the Summer Term with the news that coxed pairs and coxed fours were now racing, and culminated with the publication of the image below.

From the University College Magazine, Summer Term 1903 (final page)
  • Back Row:  W. H. Fearis (Hon. Sec.); J. H. Sacret (Coach)
  • Middle Row:  G. Canham (Captain) (Bow), 10 st. 1 lb.; C. H. Laver (Stroke), 11 st. 3 lbs.; T. M. Forster (no. 3), 11 st. 12 lbs.; A. F. Sandys (no. 2), 10 st. 4 lbs.
  • Front: H. Lloyd (Cox).

The next post will take a look at women’s boating at Reading at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Note

Reading College documentation divides the academic year into the Autumn Term, Winter Term and Spring Term (the Autumn, Spring, and Summer Terms of today) .

University College Reading officially adopted the modern system, but there are some documents that still use the original classification.

This has caused me some confusion.

Sources

University of Reading (2021). A history of sport at University of Reading 1892-2018.

Reading College Magazine, 1902, Spring Term, Vol. III.

The Magazine of University College Reading, 1902, Autumn Term, Vol III.

The Magazine of University College Reading, 1903, Spring Term, Vol I.

The Magazine of University College Reading, 1903, Summer Term, Vol II.

More about Caroline Herford

I devoted a previous post to Caroline Herford MBE who was Reading’s first Lecturer in Secondary Education and the former head of Lady Barn House School in Manchester. The school is still thriving but has moved from its original site to Cheadle near Stockport.

Herford took up the post  in 1909 and since writing the original post I have come across the entry below in the Official Gazette of University College Reading under the heading ‘Appointments’.

University College, Reading. Official Gazette. No 56. Vol. II. October 25 1909. (p. 64).

The content is illuminating because the second half contains details of her activities and responsibilities in the field of Education that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. There is no doubting her credentials for the post at London Road.

Edith Morley’s Sheep and Goats

In an earlier post about Community, I commented on Edith Morley’s opposition to the idea of a separate Common Room for women. In her Reminiscences this is how she describes the SCR at Acacias following the move to London Road in 1905:

An excellent and most attractive Senior Common Room could at once be established, opening on to delightful lawns which were reserved for the use of its members. …members of all faculties and departments, of both sexes and every status meet together, cement friendships, thrash out problems, argue, discuss and hear each other’s point of view. …everyone meets his colleagues naturally and on equal terms.‘ (pp. 102-3).

It seems that she carried the principle of non-segregation into her teaching. S. J. Curtis recalls the experience of her English class when training to be a teacher in 1911-14:

‘Special Method lectures were then given by members of the academic staff. Certain highlights of those times still stand out clearly in my mind. There was Professor Edith Morley who in her course on the teaching of English intensely disliked seeing the men occupying one side of the lecture room and the women the other, and who literally produced a mix-up by her injunction for the sheep and goats to mingle themselves. I have never been quite sure in my own mind as to which sex each epithet applied.’ (p. 23).

As noted in a previous post, S. J. Curtis went on to become Reader in Education at the University of Leeds and a distinguished expert on the History of Education and the Philosophy of Education. His textbook on the ‘History of Education in Great Britain‘, first published in 1948, ran to seven editions.

Acacias and the Senior Common Room, 1907. The path in the foreground has since been grassed over but traces can still be seen.  (University of Reading Special Collections)
Sources

Curtis, S. J. (1949). Early days. In H. C. Barnard (Ed.), The Education Department through fifty years (pp. 23-5). University of Reading.

Morley, E. (2016). Before and after: reminiscences of a working life (original text of 1944 edited by Barbara Morris). Reading: Two Rivers Press.

University of Reading Special Collections, Photographic Archives.