50th Anniversary of Boston Allowing to Women to Run Its Marathon

Charles Bishop

That women were being allowed to run the Boston Marathon only 50 years ago indicates how slowly paternalistic and chauvinistic attitudes change. The word "allowed" indicates that it was males who "allowed" females to run the race rather than it was females who made the choice. Remember the old TV show, Father Knows Best? The show’s title meant that because father was believed to be the dominant, and presumably wiser partner, that he should be the decision maker. The weekly shows reinforced that attitude. At that time, it was believed that women couldn’t or shouldn’t run because strenuous exercise might disrupt their monthly ovulation cycle.

Much has changed since the '50s. Science has long since shown that there are no biological or psychological reasons why women can't perform in all sports, or for that matter in any other walk of life. The only thing blocking them are old cultural attitudes which linger on. Recently, Fox News pundit, Tucker Carlson's has expressed fear that men are losing their virility. While it is true that male sperm counts are lower, perhaps because of dietary or other environmental reasons, it is Carlson’s indirect way of lamenting that men no longer dominate in decision-making as formerly. He is correct. Greater equality of the sexes has indeed occurred over the past seventy years. Today, 54 percent of all high school students entering college are women, and there are now more women in medical and law school than men. Clearly progress has been made. Still, on average, women are paid less than men for performing the same job and fewer women occupy high positions in corporations and government because old attitudes persist. Today the attempt to overturn Roe vs. Wade is the most glaring example of inequality. Roe vs. Wade is basically the fight to preserve a woman's right to choose by removing men from the equation. Polls indicate that 70 percent of women, and most men support it, as do I.

Stephanie Mumford Brown

Running races are one of the most gendered activities I undertake, yet they’re also among the most equitable. Awards are sex-linked—I’m competing only with other women. Yet women dominate the sport—we’re 58 percent of American race participants and 44 percent of marathon finishers. What a change in 50 years!

A little more than 50 years ago, even before the Boston Marathon opened up and Title IX mandated equal access, my western New York high school started a track team as its first competitive sport for girls. A quarter-mile was deemed the longest distance our delicate female bodies could handle. So I ran the 440 in my first and only interscholastic race, leading until committing a rookie error: I stopped at the finish line for 400 meters instead of 440 yards.

Running now has new difficulties with gender discrimination, as social norms expand beyond binary sexuality. At the same time, at the ultra edge of the sport, cisgender women are posting a faster average speed than men in races exceeding 195 miles, according to a 2020 study. Who knows how the Boston Marathon may change in another 50 years, but I and other senior women are a testament to how far we’ve come since 1972.



Bill Hoffman

Shocking that 51 years ago women were not allowed to run. I guess some things have changed for the better.

Christine Bishop

I think that the Boston officials knew that there was no way to stop women from running marathons and in particular theirs. On Patriots’ Day, April 19, 1966 Roberta Gibb, who had trained running sometimes 40 miles a day breached the marathon and joined the men. She finished in three hours, twenty-one minutes and forty seconds, two-thirds ahead of the men in the contest. 

                     Gibb Finished Boston Marathon 1966

The next year, 1967, Katherine Switzer officially entered the marathon but with an ambiguous name that the organizers could not recognize as a woman. During her run, Gibb passed her by as men were trying to remove Switzer’s bib.

     Officials attack Switzer to remove her bib in 1967

Switzer finished in 3:21:40 while Gibb finished almost an hour before her. After that a group of women pirates entering Boston increased yearly proving that the AAU dictum that women were incapable of running distances over a mile and a half was nonsense. However, it took until 1972 for Boston officials to recognize what was apparent to everyone else: women could and would play an important role in the history of distance running.

Martha DeGrazia

It actually does not mean much to me. I think Katherine Switzer has exploited the fact that she was one of the first women. The BAA celebration jackets had purple trim. That was the most significant change. 

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