Washington Rowing - 100+ Year History
The University of Washington campus as we know it was less than ten years old when the first students took to the water to row. The shores of Lake Washington that bordered the 600-acre campus were a natural draw to the students and faculty. Still heavily forested, most access around the lake was by dirt logging roads and trails with travel by horseback (if you were lucky) or foot down to the pristine water. (Click here --> UW Early Years on Union Bay for an overview of campus at the turn of the century.) Yet given the natural limitations of an age when Seattle was striving to be viewed as more than a pioneer town, an estimated 5,000 people showed up on shore and by boat to watch the first intercollegiate rowing race between California and Washington in 1903.
Although it looks very different today, little has changed in the caliber of athlete or the community support that Washington Rowing enjoys. From the very beginning Seattle embraced - in fact virtually demanded - the sport. The men and women that participated, although not privy to weight rooms, ergometers, indoor training facilities or sports medicine, trained extensively and with an ethic that lives on today.
The history that is presented here tells the story of Husky Crew supported through pictures. Many of them are your pictures - pictures taken by fellow athletes, friends and parents that ended up in scrapbooks or in boxes, but that now tell a story of amateur athletics in the purest form.
We would like you to participate with us in this history. We welcome any personal photographs or memorabilia you can share (see below), and also encourage you to write down a memory or two about the more personally important events that shaped your rowing experience at Washington. Pick out a particular race, a particular event, a particular practice, or a special memory and get it to us. We will post under the year that it relates. Click here ---> My Best Memory from Rowing - and it will become a permanent part of the history of Husky Crew.
This project is an open book. It is a work in progress. We hope you visit it often to read what your classmates and friends have to say and to enjoy the new pictures/videos/stories that will be consistently added. Like walking back into Conibear Shellhouse after being away for a decade, the history of Washington Crew is not about someone else. It is about you - our alums, our friends and our fans. Thank you for a spectacular 108 (and counting) - years!
|1900-1909 men - The first years, including Coach James Knight, trips to California via steamship, Hiram Conibear, and a number of power crabs, broken boats, swampings, and sinkings.|
|1900-1909 women - The women at the University embrace the sport from the beginning, setting the stage for an explosive rise in popularity under the progressive and passionate (and controversial) leadership of Hiram Conibear.|
|1910-1919 men - The Varsity Boat Club is born, a world renowned boat building business is born, and national coaching stars are born. Tragically however, a legend dies.|
|1910-1919 women - A decade where the sport becomes the most popular on campus for women, mostly to the chagrin of the University establishment, and only through the leadership of a number of women on campus and the commitment of Hiram Conibear.|
|1920-1929 men - Ed Leader and Rusty Callow take the reins from Conibear and build a dynasty on the west coast.|
|1930-1939 men - Al Ulbrickson guides Washington through a decade of boat racing at the highest level, culminating in the now legendary Olympic victory in pre-war Germany.|
|1940-1949 men - Both before and after a war that would forever change the landscape of intercollegiate sport, Washington produces some of the finest crews in the history of the program.|
|1950-1959 men - An IRA sweep and a stunning victory behind the Iron Curtain bookend a decade of Washington dominance on the west coast, ending with the retirement of two of the greatest coaches in rowing history.|
|1960-1969 men - Some of the toughest men to wear the purple and gold continue to control the west, and compete in a sport undergoing rapid change - along with everything around them.|
|1970-1979 men - The program drops the IRA and adds a permanent, international dimension under the guidance of Dick Erickson, a tireless man with an unwavering vision of what the sport could bring to the young men at Conibear.|
|1980-1989 men - A decade of wild ups and downs, but also a decade of fierce and varied competition - the strongest field on the west coast in the history of the sport testing the very core of the tradition at Washington.|
|1990-1999 men - Bob Ernst takes a stair-step approach to the re-development of the program, gradually building the crew into a national contender again, leading into an era on the west coast reminiscent of the early/mid-century.|
|2000-2006 men - Cal begins the decade in dominant fashion, yet the Washington/California rivalry is still as competitive as ever, leading to both teams matching speed on the national level.|
Note: To expand a picture in any given year, click on it. When finished viewing, hit your back button on your browser to go back to the original page.
A Message from the Women's History Author
There is much myth and misinformation surrounding the women’s crew at the University of Washington – especially in the early years of the twentieth century. I have reviewed as many primary sources as I could find to discover the most accurate story possible. These sources include the “Tyee” year books, the daily and weekly University newspapers (“The Pacific Wave” and “The Daily Pacific Wave” and “The Daily”), “The Seattle Times”, “The Seattle Post Intelligencer”, “The Oarsman” magazine, “US Rowing” magazine, “Washingtonian” magazine, and various other rowing and University of Washington letters, books, photographs and magazines housed in the University Archives.
It was also my intention to include as many names and photographs as possible. The daily and weekly University newspapers included the names of the women who made their class boats and the Tyee yearbook had some great photographs. Unfortunately, names were not always adjacent to the photographs in the yearbooks so it is difficult in most cases to place a name to a face. Hopefully as this history reaches family members we will be able to identify the women more completely.
If you discover something that doesn’t mesh with what you know or what you have experienced, please let me know and I will research and make a change if necessary. Also, as with any group experience, each participant sometimes has a different remembered reality. I have tried to be as factual as possible and only added personal anecdotal references when they are confirmed by at least two or three people. Please email your remembrances and we will post them in a separate section. Thanks for your support of this project.
In a final word of introduction, and as with any successful organization, the development of women’s rowing at the University of Washington would be directly tied to the administrators, coaches and athletes who participated at any one time. Women’s rowing would not have survived or thrived in the early years of the twentieth century without the leadership, energy, support and dedication of Jim Knight, Dick Gloster, Hiram Conibear, Lavina Rudberg, Gretchen O’Donnell, Lucy Pocock, and Ethel Johnson. And women’s rowing could not have been reborn in 1968 and continue to thrive without the vision and energy of women like Joan Bird, Colleen Lynch, Paula Mitchell, Jan Harville, Eleanor McElvaine and men like Bernie Delke, John Lind, Dick Erickson and Bob Ernst. But, most important, the success of women’s rowing, past and present, at the University of Washington is most directly related to the women who love to row.
Ellen Ernst '83
A Message from the Men's History Author
My goal is to write a factual history that also provides an insight into the people that have shaped the sport at Washington. Thus I encourage any personal experiences or vignettes that might enhance the understanding of the events that have transpired over the years.
The history that is written here has been researched via a number of sources: the individual sources used in any specific year or decade are documented at the end of each section. Every effort has been made to corroborate factual data via newspapers, the University yearbook the Tyee, publications on rowing, the internet, and the various writings found in the archives of the VBC.
However - that does not make everything perfectly correct! If you see something that is stated incorrectly - particularly in the years you were there - let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We also want any pictures or memorabilia, especially of races or of life at the shellhouse or VBC. If you would like to make an in-kind donation please contact me at the email address below. As a licensed 501 c 3, your in-kind donations of value to the Washington Rowing Foundation may be tax deductible. Contact us for more information.
Which brings us to the question of why I decided to do this and publish it here. People have asked and it's worth explaining. It is because it was the right place and the right time, both for the program and for me personally. The centennial provided the perfect backdrop. My wife, Heidi, who supported me throughout this project, needed very little convincing knowing how much the sport has given me. We had a window of opportunity and we took it.
Also, a note of thanks to those who helped out with this project. Bob Ernst, Ellen Ernst (who is writing the detailed women's history), all our friends at MSCUA, Stan Pocock, Bob Moch, Irma and Al Erickson (who let me dig through Dick's attic), Paul Yount, Lisa Center and the media department at the A/D, and everyone who took the time to answer questions - thank you!
Eric Cohen '82
The history is being done in two steps. The first step, a summary of each of the last 100 years, is completed for the men's side. The women's side is in the process of being written by Ellen Ernst.
The second step - and this is the fun one - is to build on what we have. That includes you sending in pictures, and your best memory, from your days by the Washington docks. See the above link for details.
The text has not been edited. The project has been done on volunteer time, with the goal to re-connect our friends and alums to a program that has had such a broad impact on our community.
There is still a lot to add. Our goal is to include videos, interviews, and all submitted stories as the months/years progress.
It is not perfect! There have been over 10,000 young men and women participate in the program over the century. If we got a name wrong, or left somebody out, let us know. Our goal is to be as accurate as possible. Thanks for reading - we hope it takes you back!
This website, and all history and other content are copyrighted © 2001 - 2013 by the Washington Rowing Foundation and Eric Cohen. Sources and pictures are credited, and any reproduction must be approved by the owner.
The Washington Rowing Foundation is a non-profit 501 C (3) corporation supported by volunteers, and all proceeds from donations go to the Washington rowing team. Thank you for supporting Washington Rowing.
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