Karen Switzer – First Woman to Run in the Boston Marathon

For Alison:

This historic photograph, taken at the 1967 Boston Marathon, is of an angry man, Jock Semple, attempting to stop Karen Switzer from participating. When he noticed her participating in the race, Jock Semple shouted at Karen Switzer, “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!”

Karen Switzer was the first woman to compete in the Boston Marathon as a numbered competitor. Jock Semple was shoved to the ground by Karen Switzer’s boyfriend, Thomas Miller. Women were, in fact, not allowed to compete in the Boston Marathon officially until 1972.

Jock Semple’s behavior is bewildering today, but in 1967 – not so long ago, I was myself 5-years old – a “woman’s place” was still something to be determined either by her father, husband, or boss. When asked his opinion of Karen Switzer having competed in the 1967 Boston Marathon, Boston Athletic Association Director Will Cloney reportedly said, “Women can’t run in the Marathon because the rules forbid it. Unless we have rules, society will be in chaos. I don’t make the rules, but I try to carry them out. We have no space in the Marathon for any unauthorized person, even a man. If that girl were my daughter, I would spank her.”

Asked why she had continued in the race after the attack by Jock Semple, Karen Switzer said, “I knew if I quit, nobody would ever believe that women had the capability to run 26-plus miles. If I quit, everybody would say it was a publicity stunt. If I quit, it would set women’s sports back, way back, instead of forward. If I quit, I’d never run Boston. If I quit, Jock Semple and all those like him would win. My fear and humiliation turned to anger.”