Today’s Women’s History Month Moment is brought to you by A Mighty Girl. If you haven’t already liked that page, I encourage you to do so. Kathrine Switzer was the first women to complete the Boston Marathon as a registered runner. She later said of the incident: “these moments change your life and change the sport. Everybody’s belief in their own capability changed in that one moment, and a negative incident turned into one of the most positive.” Eventually, in1972, Kathrine and fellow women runners convinced the Boston Marathon to change the policy and officially permit women runners, and she led the effort to get a Women’s Marathon in the Olympics, which finally occurred in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Read more about Kathrine and get some reading recommendations in this Mighty Girl post.
Kathrine Switzer’s experience as the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon is a dramatic illustration of the barriers that female athletes had to overcome and of how far girls and women in sports have come in only a few decades. Switzer was a 20-year-old college student at Syracuse University in 1967 when she registered for the race using her initials, K.V. Switzer. Not realizing that she was a woman, who were barred from participating in the Boston Marathon for over 70 years, race officials issued her an entry number.
During the race, marathon official Jock Semple attempted to physically remove Switzer from the marathon after discovering she was female. Other runners, including Switzer’s boyfriend Tom Miller, blocked Semple and she was able to complete the marathon. Photographs of the incident and the story of Switzer’s participation in the marathon made global headlines. Switzer’s record-setting run as the Boston Marathon’s first registered female runner came one year after the historic run of Bobbi Gibb, who disguised herself and snuck in to run the marathon in 1966.
After the marathon, Switzer became deeply engaged in efforts to increase girls’ and women’s access to sports and she and other women runners finally convinced the Boston Athletic Association to drop their discriminatory policies and allow women to participate in 1972. Today, nearly half of Boston Marathon entrants are female. Switzer also helped lead the drive for the inclusion of a women’s marathon in the Olympic Games — a victory which was achieved at long last with the first women’s marathon at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
As for the individuals captured in this dramatic moment, Semple later publicly apologized to Switzer and the two reconciled. After the rule was changed to allow women in the marathon, he became a staunch supporter of women racers. Looking back at what she called the “great shoving incident,” Switzer reflected, “these moments change your life and change the sport. Everybody’s belief in their own capability changed in that one moment, and a negative incident turned into one of the most positive.”