Those words, “feathering my oars in a most scientific manner”, were written by Abigail May Alcott Nieriker in 1873, although attributed to her sister Louisa May Alcott of Little Women fame. In those days, women did not row. Or rarely. In fact the full quote about a row on River Thames is
“… resolutely stepping in and feathering my oars in my most scientific manner, I pulled vigorously up the stream, with the true Harvard stroke, as nearly as one of the uninitiated can hope to come to it. Wasn’t it lovely? And didn’t I enjoy the exercise? For after weeks of painting my arms positively reveled in a sturdy pulling. Yes, utterly regardless of the chaff of the boys, the dismay of my lady friends, and the amusement of my gentlemen ditto, I heartily enjoyed the brief trip.”
Alcott Nieriker loved to row, just as she loved to paint. And travel. She recognized that travel abroad brought a greater degree of freedom to women than was possible at that time in the USA.
It seems that she truly found great joy in experiencing new places. Apparently at one point she insisted on sitting on the top of the carriage with the luggage when travelling in northern Italy, in order to better enjoy the scenery and beauty. While we couldn’t find anything to indicate that Abigail May Alcott Nieriker rowed in Italy, a main character in Little Women is Amy, an aspiring artist who travelled to Europe and received a marriage proposal while rowing on a lake in Switzerland.
So what does all this have to do with our women’s trip to Lago Maggiore? The scenery in northern Italy is just as beautiful today. We know that much progress has been made recently in women’s rowing, but more is needed. As recently as 2017, the Italian coach was quoted as saying “The number of females that row in Italy is low compared to the men …”. We are happy to report that our friends at Luino inform us that in the Italian Lake District, as the area around Lake Maggiore that includes seven lakes, is known, things are a little different, with the percentage of female rowers in the various rowing clubs here around 40% spread over all categories and levels of activity.
Our June trip celebrates women and rowing in the beautiful setting of Lago Maggiore. Just like the Alcott sisters, we will do what we love to do. We will experience the world and its beauty. Maybe we will defy a few conventions with a women’s only trip. But just as Abigail May said, we will enjoy the exercise and it will be lovely.