Kathrine Switzer running in the Boston Marathon

Photo of the Day: The women who forced their way into the Boston Marathon

Kathrine Switzer running in the Boston Marathon

The race director attempts to tackle Kathrine Switzer to stop her from running in the 1967 Boston Marathon. (Photo credit: AP/Harry Trask)

In honor of yesterday’s Boston Marathon, there were a couple great profiles of the trailblazing female runners who forced their way into the race back when it was thought that women couldn’t run 26 miles without dropping dead or turning into men or something. 

In 1966, Bobbi Gibb tried to register for the race but was informed she wasn’t allowed to “because it was a men’s race, and because she was not physically capable. Allowing a woman to run 26 miles,” she was told, “would be a tremendous liability.”  “At that point, I was enraged,” Gibb told the New York Times. “Here they were, stopping me from doing what I loved because I belonged to a certain class of person … It was a double bind. How can you prove you can do something if you’re not allowed to do it?” Well, if you’re Gibb, you just do it anyway. On race day, she put on her brother’s shorts and an oversized hoodie to conceal her gender, hid in the bushes by the starting line, and jumped into the fray.

While Gibb was met with cheers when she finally took off her sweatshirt mid-race and a handshake from the governor when she finished in 3:21:40, when Kathrine Switzer ran it the next year, she faced more resistance. The race was still officially men-only, but Switzer had successfully registered under a gender-neutral name. Deadspin explains the the moment captured in the iconic photo by Harry Trask above. Two miles into the race, the race directors spotted her. They were apparently willing to humor women, like Gibb, running unofficially but doing so with an official race number was a bridge too far. After she evaded the clutches of one race organizer, director Jock Semple lunged at her, screaming, “Get the hell out of my race and give me that number,” before her boyfriend blocked him.

In 1972, the Boston Marathon was officially opened to women. Yesterday, 12,022 women, including someone 7.5 months pregnant and an octogenarian, finished the race.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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