Kathrine Switzer: the shocking image from Boston Marathon in 1967
Rachel Hewitt explores the story behind the shocking image of Kathrine Switzer running the Boston Marathon in 1967...
Rachel Hewitt, author of the new book In Her Nature: How Women Break Boundaries in the Great Outdoors, explores the story behind the shocking image of Kathrine Switzer running the Boston Marathon in 1967.
There is a really famous, and shocking, image of Kathrine Switzer running the Boston Marathon in 1967 and being violently assaulted by one of the race officials. The story behind that is that Roberta or Bobbi Gibb had run the Boston Marathon in the previous year, but had run without an official race number.
Kathrine Switzer knew that she was physically capable of running marathon distance, and her trainer agreed it would be beneficial thing to do, and she wanted to run the Boston marathon with an official number. So she entered the race, but under her initials. She turned up at the start line, was awarded a race number, and said that actually the atmosphere on the start line was very supportive. Then a few miles of into the race, she writes about this very movingly and disturbingly really in her book.
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She hears the sound of male feet coming up behind her, and she associates that sound with threat and with danger. She says, "no women hears someone who is clearly strong and violent coming up behind them and feels relaxed about it". And he grabs her and he shouts, get out of my race and give me those race numbers. And he's trying to manhandle them off her. And she writes about her naked terror in this moment. But she continues and she finishes.
The public's reaction
These photographs were taken by press photographers and disseminated around the world. But they didn't persuade the Boston Marathon officials to allow women in. What was in the race codification before that was silence really, about whether women could participate. And in the wake of Kathrine Switzer's run, the officials filled in that silence and formally banned women, so it wasn't for another few years or so that women were allowed. The initial response of men was not "this is shocking - we should allow women in". It was "this is shocking - we need to make sure that women really can't participate".
Dr Rachel Hewitt is the author of In Her Nature, and Director of the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts, Newcastle University. She was speaking to Dave Musgrove on the HistoryExtra podcast, discussing how women were excluded from sport as rules and regulations were codified around the turn of the 20th century. Hear more from this conversation in the full audio episode or explore more of our bitesize history videos.
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