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Rowing was one of Williams' first sports, surfacing on campus in 1869 by the efforts of what was described by the school's administration as a 'decidedly burlesque' group. Williams continued to row until 1879 when it left the Saratoga Regatta along with Harvard, Yale and Bowdoin, to protest gambling and betting on collegiate rowing.

In the 1930's, two very enthusiastic school-boy rowers from St. Paul's School of New Hampshire and Kent School of Connecticut started rowing at Williams. Although they attracted 30 to 40 converts each year, the college was not impressed, and felt the sport would "spell the ruin of all sports in the balmy months of the year." In the early 1940's, attrition and the effects of World War II left the program quite literally without anyone to man the oars.

In 1968 John A. Shaw '62 returned to Williams to teach history. Shaw's energy and financial backing started Williams rowing once again, but unlike the previous two attempts, this time it was for good. One of the college shells is appropriately named the Pride and Persistence.