History

 
  • A brief history of the Women's Boat Race
    A brief history of the Women's Boat Race

    The Women’s Boat Race, between crews representing Oxford and Cambridge Universities has enjoyed a peripatetic existence since its foundation in 1927, only becoming a permanent fixture in the mid 1960’s. However even into that decade women’s crews faced hostility from some of their male counterparts, who didn't believe women should be allowed to row, let alone race. 

    Once the race moved to Henley in the late 1970's there was a noticeable improvement in standards and the rivalry become a permanent feature of the Oxbridge sporting landscape.

    This year is the first that they will share the same race day on the Tideway as the men's crews - the Newton Women’s Boat Race is bigger and better than ever.

    Oxford winning the 2011 Race in Henley
  • Early years
    Early years

    Founded in 1927 but only raced intermittently until the mid-1960’s, the first race was held on the Isis in Oxford, with (according to The Times) “large and hostile crowds gathered on the towpath” as the men objected to women rowing. Initially the Cambridge rowers always came from Newnham College (at that time exclusively female); later, with the official founding of CUWBC they were also joined by students from Girton. However it was Oxford who enjoyed early success, winning the six races held between 1930-41.

    The first few races were not decided in a side by side contest but were judged on “time and style"; the two crews were not allowed on the river at the same time!

    From 1935 the races became proper contests over 1000 yards or a 1/2 mile, on either the Cam, the Isis or on one occasion on the Tideway at Barnes.

    A crew from Newnham College Cambridge in 1919
  • Early troubles
    Early troubles

    In the 1930’s Betty Francombe, who had stroked the Oxford boat in 1929 and subsequently coached them from 1931-36, donated a cup for the winner of a race between Oxford and Cambridge University women. For a while the cup was lost but has been recovered and is currently used as the victor ludorum trophy at the Henley Boat Races.

    In the early years crews were well supported and from 1941 were awarded Blues. However in the mid 1950’s the Oxford crew went over a weir in training the day before the race and were banned from the river.

    This incident, as well as a lack of funds at Oxford, meant that there were no races for about ten years; CUWBC almost folded in the early 60’s.

    Miss Pomphrett, 1937 OUWBC cox, with the Francombe Cup
  • Revival
    Revival

    The race was revived by two engineering students between 1962-64, though they still faced male opposition, even to row in the bumps races during the mid-60’s.

    Canon Duckworth of Churchill College, an old Blue, gave the women much needed support at Cambridge; coaching the Blue Boat (whom he referred to as Perspiring Persephones or Swetty Bettys) to an impressive run of success.

    Once most colleges became co-ed in the early 1970’s, the future of the race was assured. After 1975 there was sufficient strength in depth to race reserve crews: Osiris for Oxford and Blondie for Cambridge.

    The 1942 Cambridge crew
  • Henley Boat Races
    Henley Boat Races

    In 1977 the race moved to join the men’s lightweight crews in Henley, scene of the first men’s race in 1829. With the addition of women’s lightweight races the Henley Boat Races have become a firm fixture in the rowing calendar.

    After the 2014 Race Cambridge led the series by 40 victories to 29, however the last 20 years have seen the pendulum swing from the light blues in the 1990’s to the dark blues in the 2000’s.

    Oxford winners of the 2014 Race
  • A bright future
    A bright future

    The advent of sponsorship in 2010 by Newton Investment Management has allowed both clubs to invest in coaching and equipment, after having struggled with inadequate facilities for many years. With assurance of a stronger financial future, Cambridge have committed to building a shared facility at Ely, while at Oxford the sexes have coexisted at OUBC's new boathouse in Wallingford since 2009.

    With the women's race moving to the Tideway in London this year, to be televised for the first time alongside the men's race, the clubs have recruited new coaching teams and are now planning their build-up to this landmark change.

    The winning 2012 Cambridge women's Blue Boat