A Reunion for Radcliffe Crew

Two decades have passed since Anne Robinson '76 and her Radcliffe Crew teammates traveled to Moscow to compete in the 1973 European Championships.

Twenty years--a time in which many current Harvard students have grown from infants to adults--and yet the memories remain so fresh.

"God, the Eastern European women at the time were huge," Robinson recalled. "You've heard of William 'The Refrigerator' Perry? Well, we were calling those girls refrigerators way before he was around."

Although Robinson and her teammates only finished seventh out of eight boats in that race, they laughed as they retold the story on Saturday in Weld Boat House before about 50 other current rowers, coaches and alumnae at the Radcliffe Crew Reunion.

Novice Coach Holly Hatton hatched the idea for the event after attending a recent reunion of the women's lacrosse team.


"As I met all these great former lacrosse players, I started thinking about all the women who have rowed for Radcliffe," she said.

"We have some amazingly talented alumnae, and I thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice if we could all get together?'"

After calling some local alumnae for help, poring over outdated address lists and scanning old scrapbooks for rowers' names, Hatton and Head Coach Liz O'Leary sent invitations to about 650 former rowers.

Over 100 replies came flooding back, and the luncheon was planned as a chance for many of those answering to see former teammates and talk about old times.

Dredging up nostalgic memories and, in many cases, baby pictures of a new generation, the older Radcliffe rowers proved adept at entertaining the younger ones with their colorful experiences.

Pat Koechlin '45, for example, remembered her struggles as a member of the first Radcliffe crew, in 1943.

The problems began off the water. According to Koechlin, only about 200 women per class were allowed at Radcliffe, compared with a much larger class of Harvard men. No females were on the faculty, and the female students' access to the Widener stacks was limited.

On the water, it didn't get any better. "We weren't allowed to use Harvard facilities then," she said. "We practiced at Brown and Nichols and bought a used shell from Wellesley."

From the late 1940s to 1970 Radcliffe crew was suspended for a lack of funding and of student interest.

When Radcliffe crew began again in the fall of 1970, it was only a short time until the near-miraculous resurrection culminated in the invitation to Moscow in 1973.

That Radcliffe had even fielded a crew in 1973, let alone the national champions, was impressive enough, according to Connie Cervilla '73-'74.

"The major contribution Harvard made to our crew program was to stop barring us from the boathouse," she said.

Sewing their own uniforms, picking black and white as the team colors "simply because it wasn't crimson," and often racing with sub-par shells, Cervilla and her fellow alumnae were clearly aware of their pioneering role.

"We kicked doors down so that the rest of you could come roaring through," she said to an outburst of applause.

Fights for gender equality aside, though, the mood of all participants in Saturday's reunion was as sunny was the sky overlooking the Weld Boat House deck.

As Robin Chase '76, the manager of the 1973 crew, said, "Do we have any stories? The key question is, do we have all afternoon?