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William Vanderson/Getty

This year, the Women’s Boat Race will at last take place on the same course as the men’s contest and with equal funding. It’s the culmination of a long battle for equality since a Cambridge women’s crew first faced Oxford 88 years ago.

PULLING TOGETHER

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n 1927, a Newnham eight travelled to the Isis to take on an Oxford women’s crew. It would not be a race in the accepted sense. Heads of the women’s Colleges had ruled that lining up side-by-side was unladylike, so the crews took it in turns to row, and according to The Times, were judged on “steadiness, finish, rhythm and other matters of style” over the half-mile course. The Times goes on to report “large and hostile crowds gathered on the towpath”. A New York Times correspondent credited the spectators with more benign intentions, writing that “a crowd of fully five thousand persons was on hand as a willing cheering section”. But whichever report is the more accurate, Oxford’s victory is a matter of record. The umpires could not agree on style marks, so the Dark Blues’ superior pace carried the day. These women were true pioneers – the Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club (CUWBC) would not

Words William Ham Bevan Portraits Alun Callender Opposite page: Joanna Busvine (Murray Edwards, New Hall 1982).

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