ZLAC: The World’s Oldest Women’s Rowing Club

SAN DIEGO—Which came first: women’s suffrage or women’s rowing? This isn’t a trick question. In 2019 we celebrated the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, an event itself that came 24 years after the first-ever women’s rowing club was incorporated.

ZLAC Rowing Club was established in 1895 in San Diego by four women: Zulette, Lena, Agnes and Carolyn. The first letters of each of their names formed “ZLAC.” Several rowing crews have since come and went, but ZLAC is still in existence, currently in its 125th year.

Three of the founders – Lena, Agnes and Carolyn – were sisters. Their father, Capt. Albert Alexander Polhamus, was a port captain in San Diego. He encouraged his daughters to start the rowing club. Zulette Lamb, a friend of Polhamus’ daughters, joined the club as a co-founder. The four of them apparently met for the first time during the winter of 1891 and navigated a portion of San Diego Bay on a borrowed boat.

There were 10 members when ZLAC Rowing Club was originally founded.

“The club uniform in 1895 was a black, ankle-length woolen skirt topped with a matching middy blouse with yellow braid trim on the collar. A yellow tie and a black tam o’ shanter completed the uniform. When the weather was poor, the girls donned sou’westers, and rowed as if to spite it,” Jerry MacMullen, editor of “The Journal of San Diego History,” wrote in an October 1960 article about ZLAC Rowing Club.

An opening night gala to celebrate the incorporation of ZLAC Rowing Club was set for Aug. 3, 1895. The gala was to be held on a barge built specifically for the club – but the barge was not completed in time.

The ZLAC Rowing Club’s clubhouse was originally located on Market Street, close to where the Navy Pier stands today, according to San Diego History Center. The club was donated a piece of land at Mission Bay in 1933, which, at the time, was isolated from the rest of San Diego.

San Diego History Center published a story stating ZLAC Rowing Club is divided into crews: sub-juniors (those admitted at the age of 15); and, Mariners, (achieved when the sub-juniors reach college age).

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One thought on “ZLAC: The World’s Oldest Women’s Rowing Club

  • Thanks for the lovely article!

    Not sure how to contact the author – this comment is not intended to be a public post, just some helpful corrections as many reference online articles for historic content.

    ZLAC was not the first-ever women’s rowing club, but we are now the world’s oldest women’s rowing club. Slight distinction as there were women rowing clubs previous to our founding that are now mixed gender or no longer in existence.

    A year after their first rowing adventure on San Diego Bay, in 1892, the four formed/founded the club using the first initials of their names to form “ZLAC”. Three years later, in 1895, membership increased to 10 and they legally incorporated.

    The “C” in our founders was Caroline. (not Carolyn)

    In 1926, the club purchased two waterfront lots at Dawes
    Street in Pacific Beach for $5,000. (not gifted in ’33) Where the present clubhouse was build in 1932. The clubhouse used to be our boathouse but we outgrew it and build a boathouse on the property next to our clubhouse.

    In 1901 two other local rowing clubs, the Mariners and the White Caps, were invited to join ZLAC, and the club membership increased. We no longer use their club names as all members are now part of ZLAC, Juniors (9th-12th grades) and Adult (18+), where we have various crews based on cohort.

    Please feel free to contact me with any questions. Thank you!



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