top of page

Out Like a Lioness: Badass Lady Rowers Throughout History

Updated: Apr 3, 2022

March has come and gone. Of course, March was Women's History Month! I intended to share this blog post a few days ago, but I'm excited to share with you a few of my favorite women rowers from history. Really, any month is a good time to do that (kind of like rowing). So, here we go!

The first image in the gallery above is Ida Lewis, a dorywoman and lighthouse keeper from Newport, Rhode Island. Ida was born in 1842. She started her journey as a lighthouse keeper's daughter. Her father was Keeper of Lime Rock Light in Newport. In truth, even as a young person, Ida was running the show, due to her father becoming disabled not long after they moved to Lime Rock, a tiny island in the harbor. When her father died a few years later, Ida's mother (also named Ida) became the official Keeper, again with Ida doing most of the work of maintaining the light. Part of Ida's duties and which elevated her to legendary status were her rescues of sailors who plunged into the harbor, either from a capsized vessel or falling into the harbor after a drunken night out on the town. From her home at the lighthouse, Ida would hear or see the sailors flailing in the water and would head out in her trusty and sturdy dory boat and rescue them. Some of the rescues happened in the dead of winter. I think about Ida, in her long dresses--no neoprene or Thinsulate in these Victoria times--rowing in bitter and tempestuous conditions and having the strength to haul in these heavy and sopping wet men. In response to criticism that it was un-ladylike to row boats, Ida responded, "None – but a donkey, would consider it 'un-feminine', to save lives." These rescues made her famous; she was recognized for her heroic efforts and dubbed, "The bravest woman in America." Ida married and left her home for awhile. However, this didn't last--she missed her the Lighthouse and her work and returned to the Light, so to speak. It was only years after her mother died that Ida was FINALLY appointed as Keeper. She died in 1911 on the job of tuberculosis. In 1924, posthumously, Lime Rock Light was changed to the Ida Lewis Lighthouse--the first Light to be named after a woman. I discovered Ida when I was doing research about "dorywoman" as a possible name for my business. Ida was one of the only entries that came up! I was totally captivated by her story and inspired by this Victorian-era dorywoman. Learning about her helped cement in my mind the name "dorywoman" for my business was the right one. I encourage you to read one of the several biographies about Ida or find out more about her here.

The next woman pictured is not a dorywoman, but rather a gig woman, Ann Glanville. As a pilot gig rower myself, I take a lot of inspiration from Ann, who rowed and raced four-person pilot gigs in her home port, across the UK and internationally. Ann was born almost a century before Ida, in 1796, in Saltash, Cornwall in the UK. She was married to John, a "waterman," hailing from a long line of watermen, a profession transporting people in livery boats. Ann and John had fourteen children, some of whom raced with her in regattas. Ann was regarded as "tall" in life, in part, due to her height, which was about 6'2", and also the stature she achieved in racing the pilot gigs. She and her all-female team cut an impressive figure, dressing all in white--more of those long dresses with high necks and bonnets---and handed teams their asses in many contests. One of the most famous was a race in Le Havre, France in 1833 where Ann and her team beat an all-male team of Frenchmen. At another regatta, Queen Victoria was a spectator. Ann reached legendary status. There are claims that some of her racing wins may have been tall tales (hah, couldn't resist that)! Yet, it's hardly a stretch to see why Ann was beloved by so many. She rowed into her old age, dying at the age 84. This woman of stature's legacy lives on; boats have been named after her and a life sized statue of her sits (literally) on a park bench in Saltash. Push a button and you can hear more about her life. For those that can't travel that far, you can visit this link to learn more about Ann.

Moving into contemporary times, I'd like to recognize the incredible achievements of some of the first collegiate women crew rowers. I recently had the pleasure of having one such rower in my boat, Jeanne Friedman, who helped establish the women's rowing program at Boston University in 1973, just a year after Title IX, which mandated equal treatment of female athletes in institutions of higher education that received federal funding. Title IX essentially allowed women athletes to formally organize and compete in their schools and also receive funding for their programs. Even with this legislation, the "row" to equality was hardly a straight course. Jeanne, who was just wonderful to row with, recently shared this short video with me, "Nine," which tells this tale. Jeanne was a champion through and through--she became a gold medalist in national regattas and later, the head coach of the women's crew at Mount Holyoke and a life-long advocate for women's rights. I encourage you to please watch this beautiful and moving short film. Thank you Jeanne for sharing!

Of course there are many more stories of badass women rowers throughout history and across cultures, some well-known and others that remain out of view. Though the stories, boats, rowing styles, contexts (and garb--those bonnets, though!) may differ, one thing holds true: women row.

I stand on the shoulders of these courageous women and am proud to call myself a dorywoman.

I'll conclude by sharing a few media stories from March, which I had the great fortune to be featured in. The first is this episode of Maine Life, Off-Season: Belfast. It was so fun to be interviewed in the boat out on the water on this snowy January morning, later sharing a pint at Marshall Wharf with the host, crew and other business owners from Belfast also spotlighted in this show. Thank you Erin, Connor and Johnny of MaineLife!

An article I wrote, The Transformative Power of Rowing is featured in the current issue of Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors magazine. I so enjoy writing about and photographing my rowing adventures and feel honored to be included in this fantastic magazine. Thank you to the editors of MBH&H!

And was this ever fun. I was interviewed by Jen Clark of Guides Gone Wild for her podcast about female guides and other outdoor types doing wicked cool stuff. Jen and I did a straightforward interview and then I brought her out on the boat (virtually) for a special bonus Part 3! Check out the whole shebang here--or you can subscribe to Guides Gone Wild wherever you listen to your podcasts.

What a month March was! In like a Lion...out like a Lioness! Spring is here, warmer months are on the way. Come row with me! You can book a row here--or give the gift of a row to a friend, family member or coworker. Because there really is nothing like being in a small boat in a big body of water, with a badass woman.

Happy spring to all!

89 views1 comment

1 Comment

Apr 08, 2022

Thank you for this. As a 76 year old woman, I remain proud at the advances women have made and continue to make despite all the frustrating attempts to stop us!!! I look forward to meeting you someday and maybe even signing up for a dory experience.

bottom of page