Tech Reflection: Women’s Crew, 1974
Slice of MIT
Roseanna Means ’76, ’77 was a member of MIT’s inaugural women’s varsity crew team, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. (The team is shown above competing in the 1974 Head of the Charles Regatta.) In 2017, she shared memories of the team for the Margaret MacVicar Memorial AMITA Oral History Project; an excerpt is below. Learn how you can support Women’s Crew and many other programs in the MIT community on March 14, 2022, during the MIT 24-Hour Challenge.
Roseanna Means: “Crew was men’s crew for the longest time. I got to MIT in 1973, and there had been some women who had gone down there and borrowed equipment, but there was no formal women’s crew team. When I came along, they had just given the women a coach so they could form their own team. Formerly, woman had just gone out on their own and borrowed the men’s equipment and had been yelled at when they tried to use the men’s locker room.
“But Professor [Jim] “Ross” Smith was the Head of Athletics, and he was sympathetic to the fact that the women had nothing. So, we had this guy, Dave Burns, who had been a coxswain on the men’s team, and he decided to coach the women. So, we kind of put together a women’s team, and we used the leftover men’s boats. We used leftover men’s equipment. We used leftover men’s sweats. There was no locker room for the women. The janitor had a closet that had a toilet in it. I think we might have used that.
“Anyway, we were really excited, and we were really enthusiastic. And Dave Burns was a great coach. We went out and we would crack the ice off the oars in February to get out there. We set up our races, and we raced Radcliffe and Wisconsin and Dartmouth…. We just had a blast doing all that stuff. And so we started the women’s crew. I, being a very loud person and not afraid to speak my opinions, was the coxswain. Sometimes I also rowed in the bow and talked too much from the bow! But I was the one who became friends with Professor Smith in the Athletic Department.
“We ultimately lobbied for and got a locker room made. The first women’s locker room, next to the tank in the boathouse. A lot of that was from the effort I put in. Actually, my maternal grandmother was so caught up in my enthusiasm for the women’s crew that she donated the first ever 8-oared crew shell to MIT Women’s Crew. Her name was Mary Homans. …What made this donation so significant for my grandmother’s family was that all her forbearers among the men in her family had gone to Harvard. She got a kick out of that. Also, later on, after the Friends of MIT Crew was up and running, the alumni created a Crew Shell Fund to purchase a fiberglass 8-oared shell named Roseanna Means.
“More importantly, we started dating all the crew guys. So, there were a lot of romances going on between the women’s crew and the men’s crew back then. Since I didn’t have a living group, all my friends came from crew. And it was just a fantastic experience. I rowed all the time that I was at MIT. And in fact, for my first marriage, I got married at the MIT chapel, and my wedding reception was at the crew boathouse. That was really cool.
“Some of those people are still my friends. So, rowing became my life. Between rowing for crew and handling my course load at MIT, it was a pretty busy life.”
A primary care physician at Brigham & Women’s Hospital (BWH) for 37 years and the founder of the nonprofit Healthcare Without Walls, Roseanna Means currently runs a program she launched at BWH called Bridges to Moms, which helps close gaps in social determinants of health.
Pictured from bow to stern are: Joan Pendleton ’76; Diane McKnight ’75, SM ’78, PhD ’79; Beverly Herbert ’75, MCP ’76; Julia Malakie ’77; Christine Tracey ’76; Christine (Plapp) Lofgren ’75, SM ’77; Anne McKinnon; Ingrid (Klass) Gorman ’76, SM ’79, and Roseanna Means ’76, ’77, the coxswain.
Tech Reflection is a Slice of MIT series that tells the first-person stories behind MIT photos. Want to continue the stroll down memory lane? Read more reminiscences of campus life and join in Tech Reunions June 1–4.