Rowing Through the Years

The Vital Role of Saint Mary’s Women on the Notre Dame Rowing Team

As we plan our celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX this fall, we recognize the Saint Mary’s women who paved the way for future Belles. SMC alumna Ann Deighan Buckley ’78 and Notre Dame alumna Mary Brady Bustin ’78 were rowers, forever joined due to their place in history. In a letter, they describe the vital role Saint Mary’s women played in the development of the Notre Dame Women’s Crew team.

At a time when women, and women’s sports, were new to the University of Notre Dame, the help from Saint Mary’s women was instrumental. As the years went on, the rowing club grew into a NCAA Division I sport for Notre Dame students. The bond between the team’s original members also grew, as the women continued to gather long after their college years to share their common passion for rowing, eventually forming the group NDames to begin competing again.

NDames are more than their rowing legacy, they are a great representation of the 178-year history between the two institutions. Ann and Mary detail the history of the rowing team and the lifelong friendships created:


In 1972 when Notre Dame first opened its doors to undergraduate women Saint Mary’s played a vital role.  

While many have heard the stories of the challenges between the two schools early on, what was of much greater importance was the camaraderie that developed between the Saint Mary’s women and the Notre Dame women.  

In the 1970s the women at both schools united to bolster their numbers and to compete in various sports.  The ND Rowing Club was no exception. Had there been no Saint Mary’s participants, there may have been a very small women’s rowing program at ND for years to come. It took all of us to make the program the success that it was. In fact, the very first captain of the ND Women’s Crew was a Saint Mary’s woman!  

The women of that era bonded and worked together to become a force and that they were! By 1980, the women who rowed for the Notre Dame Rowing Club had a boat take first place at the Head of the Charles, which was then and is still today, perhaps the most prestigious of American regattas. 

Additionally, participation in the Miami Invitational Regatta and the Midwest and Eastern Springs laid the groundwork for the Saint Mary’s women to truly be pioneers as they were some of the first women from SMC to compete on a national stage. They were even given Varsity status, receiving varsity letters and admitted to the Varsity Belles alum group. One little known fact about the women rowers in the ‘70s is that they were even invited to the Olympic Trials in 1976.

Fast forward to 2012 and many of these same women have regrouped and formed the NDames. Once again, Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame alums are joining forces and competing, now as master rowers at various regattas across the country. They competed again in the Head of the Charles in Boston, are regulars at the Head of the Schuylkill in Philadelphia and have had representation at the Nationals held in CA, MI, and FL, depending on the year.  

These women have accomplished much since their college years, they have become engineers, doctors, lawyers, philanthropists, architects, business women, mothers, and even grandmothers. Perhaps most importantly though, they have renewed the friendships that they had in their college years, reached out to the other women from Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame who rowed for the club in their respective years and left a legacy behind. Good or bad, now that Notre Dame Women’s Rowing is an NCAA Division I participant, the Saint Mary’s women are no longer a part of the organization. However, their years as part of the ND Women’s Rowing are invaluable and should not be forgotten!”

Back to Stories