Mary McLeannan

Year1954 Women’s European Rowing Championships (8o unplaced)
ClubUniversity College and Hospital Boat Club, University of London Women’s BC
Height5’7″ or 170 cm

Mary is fourth from the right in the photo above of the University College and Hospital BC women’s eight in 1953 (Photo © Dailypress.)

Mary was born in Croydon, lived in Leeds during the war, and took up rowing when she went to University College, London in the autumn of 1951.

Women in college scarves and rowing kit
University College and Hospital Women’s BC: Christmas 1951. Back row from left: Irene Winstanley, Dierdre Hill, Frances Bigg, Margaret Taylor, Alison Parker, Elizabeth Rodger, Doreen Whitbread, Helen Brown, Hilary Richards. Front row from left: Mary McLeannan, Annie Meyerhoff, Helen Muir, Ida Peel, Pat Taylor, Gwynneth Edmunds, Judith Franklin, Avril. (Photo © The Sport and Central Press Agency Ltd.)

She was selected to row in the three seat of the University College and Hospital BC women’s eight in the spring and summer terms of 1952. Although there are quite a lot of references in the Almanack and The Oarswoman to UCL racing in fours at Women’s Amateur Rowing Association events and the Weybridge Ladies ARC Regatta, there’s no mention of the eight racing externally, so this crew may only have competed in internal events against other University of London college crews. It’s likely that the crew’s matching socks are in the club’s “royal purple and Wedgewood blue” colours.

Women in white shirts and shorts with blades by boathouse
University College and Hospital BC 1st VIII 1952. From left: Helen Muir (cox), Gwynneth Edmunds (stoke), Hilary Richards, Irene Winstanley, Alison Parker, Helen Brown, Mary McLeannan, Doreen Whitbread, Elizabeth Rodger (bow).

In the spring and summer of 1953, Mary rowed in the UCL women’s first eight again, this time in the five seat. The only record identified so far of this crew racing was in a private match, which they won, against Southampton University.

Women in front of boathouse with oars
University College and Hospital Women’s Boat Club 1st VIII, March 1953. From left: Elizabeth Rodger, Irene Winstanley, Deirdre Hill, Doreen Whitbread, Mary McLeannan, Annie Meyerhoff, Hilary Richards, Margaret Taylor (stroke), Helen Muir (cox). (Photo © Dailypress.)
Women in rowing kit sitting in a dinghy on gravel
The wider UCL women’s boat club. Mary is between the two women standing up at the back, wearing a college scarf. (Photo © Dailypress.)

Returning to university in the autumn of 1953, Mary gained a place in the ULWBC first eight and rowed in this before Christmas.

Women's eight leaning back at the finish passing Ibis and Quintin
The ULWBC 1st VIII in late 1953, Rowers from left: Barbara Philipson, Gill Perry, Frances Bigg, Alfreda Dannell, Audrey Smith, Mary McLeannan, K Phipps, Mavis Hammond. (Photo: Mary McLeannan’s personal collection.)

However, she didn’t stay in it for long as she also successfully trialled for the national ‘composite’ eight for the first Women’s European Rowing Championships that would take place in Amsterdam in 1954, and spent the rest of the year training with that instead.

The British crews all raced as ‘England’, with red roses on their shirts, rather than GB. A full account of the team at the 1954 Women’s European Rowing Championships can be read here.


Mary clearly enjoyed travelling; her photo albums show her travelling to Sweden by ship in 1949 when she was 16, and making the most of her university vacations to visit all sorts of destinations in the UK and abroad with rowing and other friends. Easter 1952 saw her on the Isle of Wight, and that summer she went with a group to Cornwall, and then on a European tour that took in France, Germany, Switzerland and Luxemburg, before returning for an eclectic trip taking in Cumberland (where they climbed Helvellyn), North Wales (where they went down the pit at Wattstown Colliery) and Worcester (where they admired the Cathedral).

She grasped opportunities to get out rowing in dinghies, usually with her friend Mary.

During the Easter holidays in 1953, she visited Durham, and then went on another European tour that summer (after watching the Queen’s coronation in the Mall) which took in Lucerne, and most of Italy.

Woman sitting on rock by coastal bay
Mary in Capri, July 1953. (Photo: Mary McLeannan’s personal collection.)

In 1954, despite training with the England eight and revising for her finals, Mary managed to fit in another trip to Cornwall with her rowing friends. After the European Championships in Amsterdam, she went on a sailing school holiday in the Netherlands with her crewmates Pauline Grudgings and Dorothea Newman. Mary’s in the centre of first photo below showing her with Dutch friends.

After she graduated, Mary joined the Women’s Royal Army Corps as an officer cadet in early 1955, but left after three months (with a glowing reference that stated she was, “Most suitable for a responsible position.”), and later worked in a bank. In 1956, she took her passion for travel to the next stage and emigrated to Montreal and then moved to New York in late 1959 where she initially worked at the Australian Government Trade Commission, but later passed the United Nations exam for statistical clerks before gaining as post as a ‘correspondent’ (on her visa application, described herself as a Research Officer) in the Information Department of The British Travel Association at a salary of $90 a week.

By 1980 she had moved back to the UK, and was Assistant Director of Research at Ashridge Business School. She gave a lecture to the Berkhamstead Citizens Association entitled ‘Promulgation of a Rare Species – The Woman Manager’.

When she retired, Mary moved to Chichester where she was an active bridge player. She died in June 2019.

© Helena Smalman-Smith, 2019.