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Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club: a boathouse with history

Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club: a boathouse with history

The amateur rowing club dates back to the 1930s, when women weren’t allowed to join other rowing clubs.

Once Karen Crowley became interested in rowing, which has a long history in Philadelphia, she started to notice it regularly. 

“When I would drive down the Schuylkill River on my way to work, I would see people out on the river, and it just looked so appealing. I was interested, (and) I thought it would be a cool thing to do,” Crowley said.  

Crowley joined the Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club, the oldest active women’s club in the world, in 2013 and later became its president.

“Like many members, I came to the sport as a more mature individual,” Crowley said. ”It opened a whole different world because it is a terrific sport.” 

The PGRC continues to open doors for women new to the sport, running an eight-week training program for applicants each summer and introducing new rowers after Memorial Day. 

“It’s a highly technical sport,” Crowley answered. “There are challenges in learning how to do it (and) being comfortable in the water.

And those newbies can test themselves in competition shortly after joining the PGRC. A contingent from the group will race in summer regattas that welcome masters – Crowley cited three the club is planning to take part on the Schuylkill this summer. In addition, the PCRC runs the Bill Braxton Memorial Regatta in Mercer Lake, New Jersey. The event, which has been held since 1974, pays tribute to the prominent Marietta College rower killed in an automobile accident the previous year.   

The PGRC has been a long friendly to the LGBTQ community but is considering how to attract a more diverse membership. “We’re still in dialogue around that,” Crowley said.

The PGRC, which only ran classes last year with experienced rowers due to the pandemic, can bring in 12 new rowers at most. But the group doesn’t have to work hard to grow its ranks.  

“We have demand. People come to us,” Crowley said, adding that newcomers do not in any way have to be introduced or recommended by a current club. But there are physical requirements. “You have to be able to lift a boat over your head. You’re keen on learning how to do this. And you can swim,” she said.   

If the newbies meet all those criteria, they might just become the rowers still doing the activity into their eighties. 

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Rashaad Jorden grew up in the Philadelphia area — the New Jersey suburbs, to be exact — but has taught English in Japan and France in addition to getting a Master's degree from Leeds Beckett University in the United Kingdom. He also has run several road races in Philadelphia, completing the Broad Street Run numerous times. View all posts by Rashaad Jorden
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