Historic Women Creating Spaces for Women to Excel
In 2022 the United States Coast Guard achieved a historic first, they became the first of any United States military branch to appoint a female as their head of service, and not just any female, but a champion rower. Admiral Linda Fagan was sworn in as the Commandant of the United States Coast Guard on 01 June 2022. Notably, later that year in October of 2022, she and four of her teammates from the 1984-1987 Coast Guard Academy (USCGA) Women’s Rowing Team were inducted into the USCGA’s Athletic Hall of Fame. Their induction forever commemorated their four consecutive years of Dad Vail Championships, 1984 fifth-place finish at the Head of the Charles, and first place victory at the 1985 and 1987 New England Championships in the Varsity 4+ category.
It comes as no surprise that the first female head-of-service is a rower, in fact it was long overdue. However, Admiral Fagan is not the first female rower to make history. Women like Chris Ernst, Carrie Graves, Catherine Coleman, Devin Mahoney, Daphne Martschenko, and many others have paved the way for women today, not only in the sport of rowing, but in achieving excellence in other aspects of life.
To highlight a few of these amazing women’s actions and achievements: Chris Ernst boldly made history when her and her teammates stood naked from the waist-up in the Yale University Dean’s Office in 1976 with the words “TITLE IX” painted on their backs and bare chests to address the inequality of Yale’s women’s rowing facilities. Ernest’s actions did not stop there, she went on to become a US National Team Member, Olympian, and 1986 World Champion in the Lightweight Double.
Carrie Graves won both a bronze and gold medal at the 1976 and 1984 Olympics respectively, among her many other victories. She is also credited with significant contributions to the rowing programs at Northeastern University as well as Harvard University, and aided in the launch of the University of Texas’s program.
Catherine Coleman is a retired Air Force Colonel, retired National Atmospheric and Space Association (NASA) astronaut, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate and rower.
Devin Mahoney, featured in her book “The Challenge” became the first female coxswain on the Harvard Men’s Heavyweight Team and ultimately led the men to their win at Henley Royal Regatta in 1985 among numerous other victories.
Daphne Martschenko is a current role-model in women’s rowing as well as overall inclusion across the sport. Having recently been a member of the “Rowing In Color” Women’s 8+ which made history this past fall at Head of the Charles 2022, she also is a three-time rower in the Cambridge Women’s “Blue Boat” and the first black rower to ever do so. She captained the Cambridge Women’s team while receiving her PhD and made Assistant Professor at Stanford at just 32 years old. 
These women are just a handful of those who have made history in our sport, women we can be proud to follow in the footsteps of and build upon their legacy.
It’s on the shoulders of these trailblazers that we stand today, personally I am indescribably grateful for their contributions to our programs and professions. Their resiliency to press forward despite glass ceilings, patriarchal precedent, and barriers to equality enabled them to painfully carve out the spaces that we have today in male-dominated environments like athletics and high-level professional environments. Unfortunately, the battle for women to coexist in the same numbers as our male counterparts is not over. In the summer of 2022, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of TITLE IX, yet numerous programs across the country are struggling to maintain varsity status of their programs (Florida Tech Rowing, University of Connecticut, University of California, Irvine). Maintaining varsity-status of athletic programs, especially women’s programs is critical to ensuring opportunities exist for women in higher education and professional achievement. Failure to continue to fund these programs means loss of scholarship opportunities upon which many students depend amid the extravagant cost of student loans. Additionally, the support network offered to varsity athletes at many D1 level programs is vital to maintaining balance as a student-athlete that many club level programs do not receive. Finally, there is no replacement which can be put on the motivational influence and emotional support network which comes from being a member of a team.
If we allow barriers to grow restricting women from receiving higher education from well accredited universities/colleges we will see negative impacts to our labor force and in the achievement of women in the workplace. In a 2021 Bureau of Labor and Statistics report, women make up 47 percent of the workforce and yet only comprise 29 percent of Chief Executive roles in company management and just 16 percent of jobs in architecture and engineering. These positions and fields of industry are reliant upon obtaining some degree of higher education.
My teammates at Potomac Boat Club in Washington, D.C. and I are examples of the benefits provided by collegiate-level rowing programs. I am a 2018 graduate of the United States Coast Guard Academy and attribute the success in earning my degree and commission to my coaches and teammates who pushed me every step of the way. I am a sea-going officer and love deploying aboard ships, or as we call them “cutters.” However, as it stands today the Coast Guard’s active-duty workforce is only 15 percent female, and the number of those women who make going to sea aboard ships their primary career path is even lower. This discouraging statistic only provides a glimpse of how it feels to be the only woman in a room and highlights the urgent need to increase the number of women who want go to sea. I have been blessed to have supportive supervisors and crew during my time in the Coast Guard who equally advocate for a more inclusive and diverse service. Regardless, after weeks or months at sea you do miss the support and camaraderie that emerges from being around other women.
One thing that has continued to push me has been becoming a member of Potomac Boat Club’s Women’s Sweep racing program while completing my staff assignment. Every morning I wake up am surrounded by the most motivated and bad-ass group of women for the first two hours of my day. Never in my life have I seen such a concentrated quantity of accomplished young female professionals. On the team we have: an aerospace engineer, a manager of US Navy F-18s, a lawyer, Foreign Service Officers, a trauma nurse, a teacher, several civil servants, several women who work on the Hill for various members of Congress, graduate students, and more. These women get up early to be at practice by 5:00 am each day before starting a full workday as high-achieving professionals. Each one of us has benefited from a collegiate rowing program and can attribute some degree of our career success to those teams. And now as young professionals, we are further benefiting from our collegiate experiences, by participating in the post-collegiate club-rowing world and being surrounded by an inclusive community filled with examples of what we can achieve and friends who push us to achieve our goals.
There is no “thank you” strong enough to express my gratitude to the women and allies who helped pave the way and make space in the world for all of us today. The struggles and discrimination they faced to ensure we had a better, brighter, stronger future are indescribable. It is because of their contributions we can and do continue to push for more, for better, for equality for all women and communities.
One of the first practices of my time with PBC.