The picture is iconic. A woman, dressed in all gray and wearing a No. 261 bib, her dark blond hair cut in a bob, is in the middle of a crowd of runners. A man approaches and puts his hands on her, trying to force her off the course.
It was the 1967 Boston Marathon. A 20-year-old Syracuse University student entered under the name K. Switzer, and wore her sweatshirt hood over her head at the race’s start.
Shortly after she began, race director Jock Semple and Marathon chairman Will Cloney charged toward her on the course and tried to pull her off track.
The men surrounding her — her teammates at Syracuse — fended the officials off.
K. Switzer — better known as Kathrine — went on to become the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon as a registered participant, five years before the race had an official women’s field.
Now, 50 years after that first official field, women make up nearly half the participants. In 2022, the Boston Athletic Association is celebrating the women who paved the way for thousands in the world’s oldest annual marathon.
It wasn’t until 1972 that the BAA allowed women to officially enter the race. Eight finished, led by winner Nina Kuscsik.
“Back in the day, we were told your uteruses would fall out, that you’d be unable to bear children, that you would not survive the event, like it was too much for our little bodies to do,” said Val Rogosheske. “I never felt like I had to have fortitude to challenge that because I knew in my bones it wasn’t true.”
Rogosheske will run the 2022 marathon alongside her daughters and granddaughter. Watching along the course will be four of her peers from that first run: Pat Barrett, Sara Mae Berman, Kuscsik, and Switzer.
Today at 1PM at #FanFest, we'll be joined by the women of the 1972 Inaugural Women's Field: Nina Kuscsik, Pat Barrett, @KVSwitzer, Sara Mae Berman, and Valerie Rogosheske to hear about what's it's like to be back at the #BostonMarathon, 50 years later.#Boston126 pic.twitter.com/TG3w19pJ6h— Boston Marathon (@bostonmarathon) April 17, 2022
“Standing on the start line 50 years ago with the other seven women, there was a spark of excitement in the air, and I remember all of us knowing that no one was going to drop out, no one was going to walk,” Rogosheske said. “I think over the years the importance of that day has grown in my mind.”
Rogosheske credited the work put in by runners like Switzer, Berman, and Bobbi Lou Gibb, who finished as an unregistered participant in 1966.
Gibb didn’t begin at the start in 1967, according to Globe archives, sneaking in shortly after to avoid detection. And she didn’t end at the finish — because Cloney got to her, too, pulling her off as she was about to cross.
“I am hurt to think that an American girl would go where she is not wanted,” Cloney said of Gibb after the race.
But one runner quoted in the Globe’s coverage of the 1967 race had his own idea of why officials were so dead-set on sticking to the rules that prevented women from competing.
“You know why they’re throwing her off?” he asked. “Because there’s 500 men out there who can’t beat her.”
Here are more photos of the first women’s field in the 1972 Boston Marathon: