This weekend marks International Women’s Day – a global day of celebration acknowledging the great social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It’s also a call to action for accelerating women's equality.
Here at Crewroom, we’ll be celebrating the great and inspiring women who helped pull rowing out of the historical 'boys only' club, opening up the sport to talented novices, right through to the elite athletes who brought female rowing to an international stage.
Image: Pauline Rayner at Thames RC
On Saturday 7 March, over 2,500 athletes will race on the River Thames in the 80th Women’s Eights Head of the River Race. And, on the same day, we’ll raise our oars to salute the incredible Pauline Rayner – one of the most prominent figures associated with Thames RC – as she races with her G composite masters crew on her 80th birthday!
Incredibly, Pauline first took part in WEHoRR back in 1954 aged just 13. Racing in the three seat of the Alpha eight (pictured below), the boat came third out of ten. Her love of rowing began as a teenager, inspired by her brother John, who attended Mortlake Secondary School for Boys and rowed with them at Thames Tradesmen RC. Pauline’s father had very traditional views about women and wouldn’t allow his daughter to leave the house on her own, but he did permit her to go out with her brother and so she used to go and watch him row and help carry blades.
Image credit: Pauline's personal archive - Alpha Women’s ARC at the WARA Head of the River Race 1954
It was actually the boy’s coach and TTRC Captain, George Cooper, who spotted Pauline as a willing recruit and suggested that she try rowing herself at the ‘nice ladies’ rowing club’ on the other side of the river. After gaining her father’s approval and, although her mother thought she should stay at home to learn ‘housewifery’ skills, Pauline joined her first rowing club at Alpha Women’s ARC.
Amazingly, we can see Pauline in action in 1957. This silent film was recorded by Pauline’s uncle and shows her stroking an Alpha eight.
Video credit: Pauline's personal archive
Pauline’s international career launched in 1960 at the Women’s European Rowing Championships, only months after she gave birth to her first child – something that was seemingly frowned upon by the local press who wrote a derogatory piece at the time, questioning her parenting skills!
Pauline continued to row throughout the 60s and 70s whilst raising her children and competed at Women’s Head most years. In 1983 she joined Thames RC where she recalls getting changed in the carpark as there were no changing rooms for women at that time. And, in another example of the 'boys only club' which shockingly still existed in the 80's, the first Vesta Veterans Head rejected entries from Pauline’s female crew, along with others.
Over the years, Pauline has been at the forefront of women’s rowing at Thames RC and has been a pivotal figure in helping many females progress their own rowing careers including Crewroom Founder, Kate Giles. Kate recalls: “When I arrived at the club, Pauline was very welcoming and really helped me improve. I actually raced my first 8’s head with her and I’m proud to be racing for Thames RC in a C composite masters crew this weekend too.”
Today, Pauline continues to race in the ‘masters’ category both at home and abroad and, this weekend, she will take to the water on her 80th birthday at the 80th anniversary race of WEHoRR. Therefore, on the weekend of International Women’s Day, we pay tribute to a truly remarkable and inspirational woman – Pauline Rayner!
Racing is due to start at 2:30pm, with the victory ceremony taking place at 6:45pm in front of Thames Rowing Club, where the prizes will be presented by 2012 Olympic champion, Sophie Hosking MBE.