Washington Rowing - The 100+ Year History
Introduction and Table of Contents
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 values that are taught or the community support that defines Washington Rowing. From the very beginning Seattle embraced - in fact virtually demanded - the sport. The men and women that participated, although not familiar with 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 photographs. Many of them are your photos - 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. Please email us at webdev (at) huskycrew.org with your memory!
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 120 (and counting) - years!
|The Washington Women's Rowing History - In honor of the 50th anniversary of Title IX in 2022, this major addition to huskycrew.org was added in the spring of 2022 and is consistently updated, featuring a written and photo history of the last fifty years of women's rowing at Washington.
|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 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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|2003-2012 men and women - Huskycrew.org was the primary source of race information prior to the mainstreaming of social media in 2012. Our race result pages from those earlier digital years are archived and provide detailed historical perspective on both the men's and women's teams. Please note that many of the newspaper articles from these years have since been removed by the original content providers (unfortunately beyond our control), but all of the photos, interviews or videos we posted are still active. Below are links to each available year:
Added August 2023: A full timeline of 120 years of Washington Rowing,
Washington Rowing History
In addition, news surrounding the program was consistently updated from 2003 - 2012 here: Washington Rowing News 2003-2012
More about who we are - About Us
The original men's 100-year history - written in conjunction with the program Centennial in 2003 - was written by Eric Cohen (beginning in the late summer of 2002 and completed in the spring of 2003). In the decade that followed, additional years were added (2004-2006), and the first two decades of the women's history were written by Ellen Ernst and published here. As the years passed, more material has been added to every decade in every year (substantial new content was added in 2020/2021), with the significant addition of the women's history, written by Eric Cohen, in the early part of 2022.
Some notes about this website: it is not perfect! It was originally designed before smart phones existed and developed in Frontpage, at the time the most popular software to build websites... and today wholly obsolete. But to move the size of this content (the text alone - without the thousands of photos - equates to 600+ pages) to another format would likely be a six-figure investment that honestly we would rather see go directly to the team. In addition, the text has not been professionally edited, and the project, since inception twenty years ago, has been done on volunteer time. The goal has always been to re-connect our friends and alums back to this exceptional program that has had such a broad impact on our community for over 100 years. And there is still a lot to add; our goal is to continue to collect new material, including videos, interviews, and more personal stories as the months/years progress.
There have been 10,000+ young men and women who have rowed for Washington over the last century (plus). If we got a name wrong, or left somebody out, let us know. Our goal is to be as accurate as possible. Thank you for reading - we hope it takes you back!
This website, and all history and other content are copyrighted © 2001 - 2023 by Eric Cohen. Sources and pictures are credited, and any reproduction must be approved by the owner.
The Husky 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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