2010 Woman of the Year: Joanne Wright Iverson

by Ed Moran | Dec 09, 2010
Joanne Wright Iverson is not the kind of person who will turn away from a barrier and look for another road.
Joanne Wright Iverson is not the kind of person who will turn away from a barrier and look for another road.

She was that way in 1959 when she first started rowing and she remained that way through the 1960s and early ‘70s. She wanted to row in the Olympic Games and when she learned that there were no women’s rowing events and that the United States men’s rowing committee was blocking attempts to add women to schedule, Iverson went to work.

Teaming up with friends and fellow rowers Ted Nash and Ed Lickiss, Iverson launched a campaign to co-found the first national women’s rowing association. She fought hard enough that when women’s rowing was finally introduced to the Olympics in Montreal in 1976, the United States was there and so was she.

For her efforts and her continued dedication to the sport and women’s participation in it, the 71-year-old was named the recipient of USRowing’s 2010 Ernestine Bayer Award.

“First of all, I was surprised, but very, very happy about it,” Iverson said. “I am very flattered. It’s great because I’m still actually catching up from things that I did in the ‘60s and it’s wonderful. When I give talks to students or kids or other crews, I tell them I’m being rewarded now for things I did years ago, so keep that in mind. If you do things that are worthy of being recognized, people don’t forget that. It’s a very neat thing.”

Iverson receiving the award that was formerly know as the Women of the Year Award, but later renamed to honor the late Ernestine Bayer, is fitting. Iverson started rowing at the Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club, the club started by Bayer, who is known as the “mother of women’s rowing in the United States.”

The year was 1959 and Iverson fell very quickly in love with rowing and developed a strong desire to row in the Olympics.

“What I did in the ‘60s was to recognize a need,” Iverson said. “I personally wanted to go the Olympics and when I found out after starting to row that I was pretty good at it, I realized that that wasn’t going to happen because there was no women’s rowing in the Olympics.
“And then when I found out why. Every time the International Olympic Committee would partition the men’s governing body of rowing in the United States to add women’s rowing to the Olympics, they said they wouldn’t send a team.

“They always said no because they didn’t think we would be any good at it. It was at that point in my life that we had to do something. I was very fortunate enough to meet Ted Nash, who was on the west coast at the time, and Ed Lickiss, who was also on the west coast. We got together and decided to form a women’s rowing association so we could have our own national regatta and prove that we could do something worthwhile and we could produce fast crews.”

According to Iverson, the three worked tirelessly to form a committee, develop governing rules and to track down female rowers wherever they could find them.

“It was a very long political battle trying to get new crews started, trying to find out where the crews were that existed in the United States. We had no Google, no Internet, no e-mail. We had to do everything by writing letters and making phone calls. It was a very, very tough thing to do, but eventually we did it. By 1976, we were in the Olympics.”

Iverson managed that first Olympic team and helped them to win a bronze medal in the eight and a silver medal in the single sculls.

Iverson has continued working in rowing and is current president of Vesper Boat Club. She was the first coach of women’s rowing at the University of Pennsylvania, a member of the initial United States Women’s Olympic Rowing Committee and an appointee to President Gerald Ford’s Commission on Olympic Sports, serving with Rafer Johnson on the rowing subcommittee.

In addition to the 1976 Olympics, Iverson managed the first U.S. women’s rowing team at the World Rowing Championships in Moscow. In 2007, she was inducted into the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association Women’s Rowing Hall of Fame. She is the founder and president of two technology firms, Iverson Associates and Iverson Gaming Systems.

In 2009, she wrote and self-published the story of her journey to bring U.S. women’s rowing to the Olympics. Her book is titled An Obsession With Rings.

“I wrote the book because I had to,” she said. “It was one of those things that I intended to write for years. I needed to write it. I wanted to tell the story. Finally, when I got to be about 65, I thought, ‘I’ve got to get this story out and I have got to get it told.’

“So that’s why I wrote it. I wrote it, I published it myself and I feel satisfied. The story has been told. It’s part of history right now. I frankly don’t know how much [the book] contributed to the award this year. Most of the people that I talked with who have read it are pretty happy that I wrote it. But I have not had the time or the energy to publicize the book, so it’s not a bestseller.

“Nobody is knocking down my door to buy it. I managed to get it on Amazon Kindle and I have a Web site for it,” she said. “I sell maybe three or four books a week. I think what contributed to the award is what I did previously in those days when we worked so hard to get women’s rowing into the Olympics.”

One person who is well documented in the book is Nash, who said he was proud to have been part of what Iverson did.

“She fought very, very hard for women’s rights when the men did not want the women in the competitive mode, or any mode,” Nash said. “Joanne, Ed Lickiss and a couple of others and myself started this and got it moving up through the Olympic level. We were very happy for the expenditure of time and effort for that because it reached a very good solution.

“She was a huge part of that,” he said. “I, and everyone else, are very, very proud of Joanne and her efforts in women’s rowing.”
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