Hey, all! Today in Badass Women in History, I’m bringing you the story of Kathrine Switzer- the first woman to register and run in the Boston Marathon.
Kathrine Switzer was born in Germany (her father was an officer in the US Army). When she was two years old, the family moved back to the States and settled in Virginia. She attended school there, and attended Lynchburg College. She then transferred to Syracuse University, where she earned her bachelors and masters degrees in literature and journalism.
Switzer also had a passion for running, and trained with a running coach. She expressed her desire to run the Boston Marathon, and was told that she would have to participate as an unnumbered entrant because women were not allowed to register as they were “too fragile.”
In 1967, she trained for and registered for the marathon under the name “K.V. Switzer” because her initials didn’t imply gender. While she insists to this day that she used her initials not to deceive officials but to prevent confusion (her name is spelled incorrectly on her birth certificate), I’m not sure I believe that. How many female authors have used their initials because they thought that if they used their names, they wouldn’t be taken seriously?
On April 19, 1967 she was given number 261 due to an “oversight in the screening process” and began running, along with her coach as well as her boyfriend, former All-American football player Tom Miller. When he was notified that a woman was running with a number, Boston Athletic Association representative Jock Semple ran after her screaming “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!” He physically tried to stop her, but Tom Miller shoved him to the ground so she could continue. She felt afraid and guilty, because she thought Miller had severely injured Semple, but she continued the race. She knew if she quit, she would be setting women’s sports back, and proving all the chauvinists right. She did finish the race, behind the first woman who ran without a number.
After the race, the Boston Athletic Association director was asked about Switzer’s run. He was quoted as saying “if she was my daughter, I would spank her” (if I was spanked by my father at 20 years old, we would have a SERIOUS problem, but that’s beside the point). Her run then prompted the Amateur Athletic Union to ban women from all competitions involving men, and violators would be banned from future races PERIOD.
From that point forward, she and other female runners advocated relentlessly for women to be allowed to run in marathons. Five years after her controversial run, women were finally allowed to officially register and run the Boston Marathon. Switzer went on to be the women’s winner of the marathon in 1974, and ran a total of 9 marathons over the years. She also commentated for marathons on television, and received an Emmy for her work.
In 2017 on the 50th anniversary of her first run, Kathrine Switzer ran the Boston Marathon AGAIN. She was given the same number (261) and ran with a group from her non-profit organization, which seeks to empower women through running. At the end of the race, her bib number was retired, and no one will ever use it again.
While everyone knows that I am not athletic in ANY sense of the word whatsoever, I have the utmost respect for this woman. Her courage and persistence for the inclusion of women in sports are to be admired. She is just another great example of women giving sexist assholes the middle finger and saying “oh yeah, just watch me.”
As always, thanks for reading. See you next time!