Maria Cerra Tishman, 1937 IWFA Intercollegiate Champion and 1948 Olympian, spoke about the history of the NIWFA at the 75th Anniversary Banquet
I'm very happy to be here and talk to you at the celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the NIWFA. I have to speak very fast, as I only have five minutes to talk about the changes in the 75 years since its inception. One cannot discuss the NIWFA without saying, "Julia Jones", the first champion and co- founder of the IWFA. Julia Jones saw the IWFA grow from four member colleges to 79 members and from IWFA to NIWFA. When the NCAA took over women's collegiate fencing, she was the guiding force that kept the NIWFA going. The NIWFA can proudly say that a number of its fencers went on to become National USFA Champions and Olympians. All of us who have enjoyed the fencing today can say, "Thank you, Julia."
In 1929, four colleges, NYU, Cornell, University of Pennsylvania and Bryn Mawr founded the IWFA. When I fenced in the IWFA in 1937, '38', '39 and '40, the organization had grown to nine members. The Championship was fenced over two days with a round robin of teams meeting in nine bout matches. The individual championship was determined by counting all the bouts of each fencer. At the end of the two days, there was a formal dinner and dance. Long gowns for the ladies and tuxedos for the men. This was the highlight of the fencing season for me.
There have been many changes in fencing uniforms. I remember my first fencing uniform - a lovely white jacket with a black velvet skirt. If you look at the NIWFA medals today, you'll see Julia Jones lunging in a black velvet skirt. By the way, this medal was designed by Julia's husband, Anthony Pugliese, a well-known sculptor, who, among other things, designed the logo for Brooklyn College. From the black skirt, we went to black velvet pants, full length and caught at the ankle. Let me tell you, they were warm to fence in. Then we had the all white fencing dress. That was lovely and quite feminine, one piece with the jacket continuing to a full skirt and buttoned all the way done on one side to the hem. But one didn't button he last two buttons. They were left open so that when one lunged, the leg showed. Wow! After that came the long white duck trousers, something like ski trousers and buttoned at the ankle. Finally, the present day knickers were introduced. I think they are both practical and attractive.
When I first started fencing in 1929, bouts were for five touches. By 1948, bouts were fenced for four touches and then back to five touches in 1973. The fleche was out, then in and now excluded in sabre. The target, when I fenced, was the torso, excluding the arms, with the bib included, excluded and finally excluded. The target went as low as the top of the hip bone and across to the other hip. Below that was called foul - foul, not off target. I remember being terribly embarrassed when a judge raised his hand indicating I was touched, then had his doubts and asked permission to feel my hip bones, Oh, how I have always hated that man!
Thank heaven for electric al foil! In fact, thank heaven for electrification of all three weapons, especially epee. It was such a smelly weapon. In bygone days, when we had judges determining a touch or not, the epeeist had to add a small point d'arret to the end of the blade., the point of which was dipped in red ink before each bout. When a judge called a touch, he then had to look and find the three red points on the target - the fencer's arm may be raised or a leg raised while the search was on for the three points on the target. When the bout was over, the three red points had to be removed from the uniform so that the fencer was clean again for his next opponent. The erasure of same was done with vinegar being rubbed on the previous touch. Let me tell you that the smell of the combination of vinegar and perspiration was pretty awful. Hurrah for the electrical epee! The addition of epee and sabre to women's fencing was a tremendous change. Women have it all now - and we have women directors, and have they ever shown. The best defense is still an attack and, an attack into an opponent's attack, can be terrific. So, I say, their stuff! In the 25 years I was a competitor, I never had a woman director or judge.
Yes, there have been many changes in our sport - but there's still charm and uniqueness - still a salute to the director, to the opponent, to the audience before and after the bout, along with a hand shake and a Thank You. It's still a good idea to riposte after a parry, to start the hand before the foot in a lunge. Continue to enjoy this great sport - changes or no. Thank you.
Maria Cerra Tishman tied for second place in the 1948 Olympics and placed fourth on touches.