Ernestine "Ernie" (Steppacher) Bayer dead at the age of 97, 24 Doe Run Lane, Stratham.
Born March 25, 1909 Philadelphia, PA since 1971 a resident of New Hampshire, died September 10th in Exeter, NH. Mrs. Bayer was predeceased by her husband, Ernest of 59 years in 1997, leaving an only daughter, Ernestine (also known as Tina).
Mrs. Bayer was a world leader in introducing women to the sport of rowing. Through her efforts, women's rowing was added to the summer Olympic schedule. During her life time she earned every award given by the national rowing association: Nominee for the Sullivan Award from rowing, member of the first Women's rowing Olympic Committee, member of the National Rowing Foundation (NRF) Rowing Hall of Fame, First United States Gold rowing medal, Carlin Award, Coach of the Year, and named one of rowing's 10 most influential people of the century. She to this day holds the world record on the rowing ergometer for women 90+.
"NO FLOWERS. Donations in her memory will go to establish an fund for a rowing scholarship, endowment stipend, and startup programs. Please send donations to Daniel Jones Escrow on account of Ernestine Bayer, PO Box 526, Exeter, NH 03833-0526.
A memorial service is planned for early October."
row2k joins the entire rowing community in saying that Ernie Bayer will be greatly missed, and remembered in a way that not everyone will be, with every stroke of many of the most successful women now in the sport. Rowing would not be half what it is today without her, so to speak - and then some. Find a fascinating recounting of Ernie's life below.
Ernestine Bayer, 97, a pioneer in the development of women's rowing in the United States, died September 10th in Exeter, New Hampshire.
Widely regarded as the "Mother of Women's Rowing" and the "Mother of Recreational Rowing" in the United States, her name is recognized in rowing circles around the world. She learned to row at a time when it was believed that women could not row competitively. During her lifetime she challenged that assumption again and again, refusing to take "No" for an answer on dozens of occasions when the male rowing community opposed her initiatives on behalf of women.
Mrs. Bayer was the founding and guiding force behind the development of the largest recreational rowing club in the United States. For more than a half century she personally attracted thousands of rowers to the sport. Her pioneering efforts made it possible for women to row for the first time in international competition resulting in the women's rowing events being added to the Olympic Games in 1976. She was a member of the first Women's Olympic Committee, and she helped establish the women's crew program at the University of New Hampshire
Mary Colgan, one of thousands of women whom Mrs. Bayer introduced to the sport, once called her the "Gloria Steinem of rowing" before Gloria Steinem became famous, noting, "Ernie was already liberated because of her love of the sport."
Even though she was a highly competitive rower at a time when competition among women rowers in the United States was in its infancy, she was even more passionate about bringing women into the sport. "The cool thing about Ernie is that as competitive as she is, her focus is to get people rowing and not just to get people who want to row fast," said Jeanne Friedman, head women's crew coach at Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts, one of Mrs. Bayer's many different rowing partners in doubles competition.
Mrs. Bayer continued to row until a stroke in July 2005 and last competed at the Master's World Championships in Montreal at the age of 92 where she won 1st places and 1 2nd place.
"She proved three things during her lifetime," said Friedman. "1, women can row; 2, women can row fast; and 3, women can row no matter how old they are."
She was driven throughout her life, said Friedman. "If she wanted to do something and someone said 'No', she would find a way to do it anyway."
A natural athlete who enjoyed all sports, Mrs. Bayer was born on March 25, 1909 to Henry and Rosetta Steppacher of Philadelphia. She was introduced to the male-only sport of rowing at the age of 18 when she met the late Ernest Bayer, an Olympic hopeful who went on to become a silver medalist at the 1928 games. They were married in January 1928.
During the early 1930s she spent hours watching her husband and other men row on the Schuylkill River, the oldest rowing center in the U.S., with the famous "Boathouse Row" in the heart of Philadelphia. When she asked her husband about learning to row, he replied "Women don't row and moreover there is no place for them to row from."
In 1938, then a stenographer at Philadelphia bank, she took matters into her own hands by recruiting other young women who wanted to row. Together they founded the Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club (PGRC) and through her contacts rented a building on Boathouse Row from the Ardmore Skating Club this is now known as the Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club.
The women were not welcome on the river on the grounds that it was a male sport, and that they took up valuable space on the water. The male rowers contended that the women were only interested in meeting men. Yet Mrs. Bayer, with the quiet support of her husband, a highly respected oarsman and by now a coach, prevailed. In July, 1939 the Schuylkill Navy agreed to be host and sanctioned the first-ever women's race on the Schuykill River. Three doubles competed and Ernestine and her partner, Jeanette Waetjen Hoover won the event. That win was the first in a remarkable career.
One of her most notable challenges came in 1967 when she was 58 years old.
Her 10-woman crew, which included her daughter, Ernestine Jr. (Tina), entered the 2nd Women's Rowing Nationals competition, and won all of their events. The victories convinced Ernie that the crew was ready for international competition, but John Carlin, the U.S. rowing organization's international representative to the world governing body for rowing, refused to approve the entry. He maintained that failure for the inexperienced American women would give the Iron Curtain countries, where rowing teams were subsidized, easy victories over the U.S., an outcome he wanted to prevent.
Mrs. Bayer was devastated, but not for long. The PGRC crew was invited to Canada for an exhibition row against a veteran men's eight consisting, in part, of ex-Olympians and other international caliber oarsmen. The women jumped the men at the start of the race and just barely held the lead to the finish line. The win surprised the rowing community, including Thomi Keller, the influential president of FISA, the entire international rowing organization.
Thomi Keller, then the president of world rowing, an organization called FISA (Federation Internationale Societe d'Aviron) sought out Mrs. Bayer following the race and requested she submit an entry for the crew in the world competition coming up shortly in Vichy France.
Mrs. Bayer replied that she had hoped to enter the race, but approval of the entry was denied by the U.S national rowing organization, then known as the National Association of Amateur Oarsmen. In addition Mrs. Bayer said. "We don't have the money."
"I will take care of the U.S. organization&you take care of the money," Mr. Keller said. Mrs. Bayer arranged for a loan, and the team used the money for uniforms, transportation and housing. The oarswomen could not afford a coach to go with them and had to economize as much as possible on expenses. They also had to deal with the hostility of the U.S. rowing organization that, at first would not permit them to use the same US insignias on their uniforms as the men's rowing team.
The American women's eight came in last among six shells, but was not far behind the 5th placing boat. Their quadruple scull entry did well in their preliminary heat, but could not continue to race due to broken equipment. After the finals, the international womens' crews rushed into the American women's locker rooms to exchange shirts, a custom among competitive rowers.
"It was a triumph," said her daughter, Tina Bayer. "No one exchanges shirts with losers."
Later, she said, Mrs. Bayer found out that the European women's crews regarded the American entry as extremely important to their campaign of having women's crews accepted into the Olympics, something finally happened in 1976.
In 1971 the Bayer family moved to southern New Hampshire. Even though rowing was virtually unknown in that part of New England -- except for the Boston area, -- it did not take Mrs. Bayer long to continue her involvement in the sport.
In 1972 she bought a new to the market boat known as the Alden Ocean Shell, designed by the late Arthur E. Martin. The ocean shell reflected elements of both kayak and canoe design and was "a shell that anyone could row anywhere" as proclaimed in an early company boast. Mrs. Bayer believed the Alden shell made a much easier and reasonable entry into the sport for prospective rowers over traditional racing shells. Mrs. Bayer suggested to the boat manufacturers that the purchasers of the boats might be interested in forming a club. After the company sponsored a race, Mrs. Bayer and others formed an association of Alden owners and she volunteered to be secretary- treasurer. Over 17 years she built the association to approximately 600 members.
Characteristically, she continued to fight the rowing establishment, contending that the AOSA should be accepted as a member of U.S. Rowing, the governing organization for rowers. However, the management of US Rowing resisted because its members did not row competitive shells. The U.S. organization eventually yielded and the AOSA grew to be the largest club under its umbrella.
Mrs. Bayer also campaigned for the Alden's admission to racing at the prestigious Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston, a request denied on the same grounds. She then asked for permission to stage an early morning race of Aldens to be held an hour before the regatta's official start. The Charles committee agreed; the first Charles race for Aldens was in 1973 and the event has been held annually ever since.
In 1972 Title IX became law. The federal legislation required colleges and universities to offer equal athletic opportunities and programs to women as well as men. The colleges that already had men's crew programs started offering women's crew programs as a way of compensating for large male-only football programs. The result was that hundreds of women started rowing and, not surprisingly, that movement materialized at the University of New Hampshire. Jim Dreher, then a volunteer crew coach at UNH, which had just started a men's crew, was overwhelmed when some women showed up to row. Dreher, who supported women's rowing, believed he did not have the time to take on another rowing program.
Ernie and her daughter, Tina, volunteered to coach the women. At mid-season, they put together an eight to row in the Head of the Charles, recruiting a coxswain who knew the course and an eighth rower. The crew, consisting of Mrs. Bayer, then 64, her daughter Tina, and the six UNH women, finished the race 22nd out of 40. The crew had only been rowing one month. At one point, a spectator leaned over a bridge and yelled "Who is that old lady in the shell?" referring to Mrs. Bayer, the rower with the white hair.
One of their UNH protégés was Liz Hills O'Leary, now coach at Radcliffe, who learned to row while living with the Bayers. Following her graduation she went on to medal in international competition and became a rower on multiple international teams and two U.S. Olympic teams.
By this time the established rowing community had taken notice of Ernestine Bayer.In 1980, U.S. Rowing, the organization she had challenged in her earlier years, awarded her the John Carlin service award, the first time a woman had been so honored. In 1984 she became the first woman ever to be admitted to the Rowing Hall of Fame. As part of that honor she was invited to row with the 1984 women's Olympic gold medal eight. At the age of 75, she amazed the oarswomen with her skill. At first they treated her gently; however, she kept urging them "to show their stuff." They did and she kept up, stroke for stroke, over short power pieces.
Holly Metcalf, a member of the crew, said Mrs. Bayer rowed in the place of Carie Graves who could not attend the Hall of Fame ceremonies.
"It was just amazing to me," Metcalf recalled. "Carie is six feet one and Ernie five five and during the short high intensity pieces we did you really could not feel the difference because she blended in so beautifully and so smoothly."
As for Ernie Bayer, she said, "It was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me. It was my proudest moment. Everything I had worked for all my life had come true."
She told the girls she had rowed with many Olympians all men and the women's boat was smoother than any she had ever been in. That row with the 1984 Women's Gold Medal Crew she often said was the highlight of her entire life of rowing.
Much to the amazement of just about everyone in the rowing community, she continued to compete. She just had it in her blood.
Jeanne Friedman, the Mount Holyoke coach, recalled that she was in a double with Mrs. Bayer in the late 1980s at one of Metcalf's RowAs One camps for women on the Connecticut River. "Holly had told me to take it easy on Ernie, who was then in her early 80s," said Friedman. "So a woman's eight comes along and Ernie hollers 'How about a race?' and off we go."
In 1989, Mrs. Bayer rowed in the World Rowing Organization's Masters Regatta that was held in the United States for the first time. In 1991 she competed in the Florida Masters Regatta and won in a mixed double and the single. Earlier that year she had competed in the Crash B indoor races in Boston and established a world record in her age bracket. In 1992 at age 83, she won her age division, 60 and over, in the Head of the Charles race. She was United States Rowing Sullivan Award nominee that year.
During her 90s, she continued to row on the Squamscott River, sometimes in a single and sometimes in a double. At the age of 91 she set the world record on the Concept II rowing ergometer for women over the age of 90. Also that year she competed in the Master's World Championships in Montreal winning the women's double, the women's eight, and taking 2nd in the mixed double. In March 2003, shortly before her 94th birthday, she was stricken with a stroke, and months of intense therapy followed. Although not quite recovered, she was able to row in a double as part of her therapy. In September 2003 she fractured her pelvis in a fall, an injury that she was also able to overcome. In July of 2005 she suffered a massive stroke which left her paralyzed on the right side and unable to speak.
Her husband, Ernest Bayer, died in 1997 at the age of 92. They had been married for 68 years. A highly-respected oarsman, member of the board of the National Association of Amateur Oarsmen, and national and international referee, he quietly supported his wife's breakthrough efforts, often coaching boats that she had put together. Mrs. Bayer gave him credit for his work, stating that she could not have accomplished so much without his connections in the rowing world.
Mrs. Bayer is survived by her only daughter, Ernestine, who uses the name Tina, with whom she lived in Stratham.
NOTE: Principal writer for this obituary was Lew Cuyler whose biography of Ernestine Bayer was published September 2006.