The Boston Marathon is an annual race held in the greater Boston area of eastern Massachusetts, United States. It is traditionally held on Patriots’ Day, which is every third Monday of April. It was founded in 1897 in response to the success of the first marathon competition in the 1896 Summer Olympics. But did you know women were initially not allowed to join the marathon?
Bobbi Gibb was the first female runner in the 1966 Boston Marathon. When she applied, she was turned down because women were considered physiologically incapable of running a full marathon. She ran, disguised as a nurse in a hoodie and nursing shoes. She came in third place with a time of 3:21:40.
Who is Bobbi Gibb?
Gibb was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and grew up in the Boston suburbs during the 1940s and 1950s. She received her education at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Tufts University School of Special Studies. Her father was a chemistry professor at Tufts. She was already able to run long distances. Her daily running included the eight-mile commute to school. She ran in white leather Red Cross nurses’ shoes because women’s running shoes were unavailable at the time.
Gibb is a former runner from the United States who was the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon. The Boston Athletic Association (BAA) recognizes her as the pre-sanctioned era women’s winner in 1966, 1967, and 1968. The pre-sanctioned era at the Boston Marathon was from 1966 to 1971, when women could not compete in the Men’s Division under the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). rules ran and finished the race. The women who finished first in the Pioneer Women’s Division Marathon from 1966 to 1971 were retroactively recognized as champions by the BAA. in 1996.
In 1966, Gibb’s run challenged prevalent prejudices and misconceptions about women’s athletic abilities. She finished nearly an hour ahead of Kathrine Switzer in 1967. Gibb finished first out of five women who ran the marathon in 1968. It wasn’t until late 1971, after Nina Kuscsik petitioned the Amateur Athletic Union, that the AAU changed its rules and began to sanction women’s division marathons. In 1972, Kuscsik won the first AAU-sanctioned women’s division race in Boston. (Source: Bobbi Gibb Art)
What Inspired Bobbi Gibb to Run in the Boston Marathon?
In 1960s America, a woman’s primary role in society was to support her husband, the breadwinner. But Gibb had a different idea.
I felt something fundamentally lacking in the suburban life laid out for us, particularly women. I believe I was looking for something more profound.Bobbi Gibb, American Former Runner
Gibb and her father watched the Boston Marathon in 1964. It was the first time she had seen other people running, and the sight moved Gibb.
I saw all these people running by and didn’t think about whether they were men or women; I just saw these incredibly strong, enduring people. And it said something more profound to me about what it is to be human. It’s as primal as when we stood on the central African plains on our hind feet and began to run. That kind of endurance has a very human quality to it. I fell in love with the courage it takes to run a race like that and live a life of integrity.Bobbi Gibb, American Former Runner
(Source: WGBH Educational Foundation)
Image from ESPN