Bobbi Gibb: The First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon

In 1966, 24-year old Bobbi Gibb became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon…except women weren’t allowed to run it.

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Bobbi crossing the finish line at the 1966 Boston Marathon. Photo via Yarrow Kraner and NYT.

She watched the 1964 Boston Marathon and was entranced. She told herself, “I’m going to run this race.” She began training almost immediately.

At the time, it was thought that running distances over 1.5 miles was potentially deadly to women. Still, she pushed herself to run a little further every day. Oh, and she had to train in nurse’s shoes since shoe companies didn’t make athletic shoes for women. After her two-year training period, Bobbi submitted her application to the race and it was only then that she learned that women were not allowed to compete. The director of the marathon told her that women were not physiologically able to run the 26.2 miles and the liability was just too great. Not taking no for answer, she took a week-long bus ride from San Diego to Massachusetts and ran the race in her brother’s Bermuda shorts, a swimsuit, and a hoodie (photo above, minus the hoodie). Since she didn’t have a bib and race number, she hid in the bushes near the starting line, waiting for the starting gun.

When the race began, her fellow runners almost immediately realized that she was a woman. Gibb, already anxious about being discovered, became even more afraid that she would be pulled out of the race or even arrested. The men running the marathon assured her that if anyone tried to keep her from running, they’d put a stop to it.

After 26.2 miles, she came in #290 out of 415 men.

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Gibb after the 1966 Boston Marathon. Photo via Yarrow Kraner and NYT.

The next year, she ran again. This time other women joined her.

The next year, she ran again. Even more women joined her.

In 1972, six years after Bobbi’s first time running the marathon, the Boston Marathon began allowing women to participate. (The Amateur Athletics Union permitted women to participate in marathons in the fall of 1971, after that year’s Boston Marathon.)

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Bobbi at the 2015 Boston Marathon. Photo via Yarrow Kraner and NYT.

Bobbi Gibb is now 75 years old. Since the 1960s, she has earned a pre-med degree and attended law school. She is a member of the MA state bar and has worked with the University of Massachusetts Medical Center studying neurodegenerative diseases.

She’s also an accomplished sculptor and painter, with her works on display in the National Art Museum of Sport in Indianapolis. She has also exhibited her art at many temporary exhibits in museums and has been commissioned to create a bronze sculpture to be placed on the Boston Marathon route.

And because all of that isn’t impressive enough, she’s also an environmentalist, author, and documentary film producer.

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Sources
About, Bobbigibb.net
The Incredible Story of Bobbi Gibb, the First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon by Brigit Katz, NYT
History of the Boston Marathon, Boston Athletics Association

Dorothea Dix: Teacher and Mental Health Advocate

When I first moved to Raleigh nearly six years ago, I became aware of Dorothea Dix because (spoiler alert!) one of the institutions she helped set up still stands right outside of downtown Raleigh.

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Part of the Dorothea Dix campus in Raleigh. Photo via zalevaika on Flickr.

The campus takes up over 300 acres of land that the city has gained ownership of and is in the process of turning it into a “destination park.” But this post isn’t about Dix Park. It’s about the woman herself.

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Dorothea Dix. Photo via Museum of Disability on Flickr.

Dorothea Dix was born April 4, 1802 in Hampden, Maine. She was the oldest of three children. Her father was an alcoholic Methodist preacher and her mother was in poor mental health. As you would expect, her home life was very unhappy and her father was likely abusive. The family moved to Vermont shortly before the British invaded Hampden during the War of 1812. When her two younger brothers were born, she took over caring for them. When reflecting on this time of her life, she would later write, “I never knew childhood.”

In 1814, due to her parents’ failing health and inability to care for their children, her paternal grandmother took Dorothea and her brothers to live with her in Boston. Madame Dix was very wealthy and lived in a home referred to a “Dix Mansion.” Despite their new lifestyle, Dorothea continued to care for her brothers. Dorothea and her grandmother also butted heads about Dorothea’s rejection of the finer things in life, like a private dance teacher and personal seamstress. Madame Dix was furious when she discovered Dorothea giving food and clothing to “beggar children” outside the mansion’s front gate. Dorothea didn’t act like the wealthy girl she suddenly was and it bothered Madame Dix so much that she send Dorothea to her sister’s house (Dorothea’s great-aunt’s) to become a “lady.” Once she arrived, she immediately assumed the role so that she could go back to her brothers at Dix Mansion.

It was around this time that Dorothea decided she wanted to be a schoolteacher. She was informed, however, that girls were not allowed to attend public schools. Her cousin, Edward Bangs, suggested she start her own “little dame school” to get around this. Dorothea was sold and Edward helped her secure space for her lessons. In 1816 at the ripe old age of 15, Dorothea held her first class.

I’m going to fast forward now to 1841, when she had an experience that was the catalyst for her work in mental health reform. Between 1816 and 1841, she continued to teach and opened a school right in Dix Mansion with the support of Madame Dix. It was during this time that she began writing books for children. Around 1836, she took an extended trip to Europe to recoup from tuberculosis. In January 1841, she returned to Boston.

A few months after her return, she volunteered to teach Sunday school classes to women at the East Cambridge Jail. What she saw appalled her. The cells were unfurnished, unsanitary, and unheated, despite how brutal New England winters can be. She also thought it was unfair that mentally ill inmates were locked away with criminals. When she asked why inmates were forced to live under these conditions, she was told, “the insane do not feel hot or cold.”

She knew that this was not right and immediately began investigating other prisons and asylums. She found more of the same. In 1843, she used this data to submit a pamphlet (also known as a “memorial”) to the Massachusetts state legislature. Since women couldn’t vote or hold office, this was the only way she could get this in front of the legislature. (She wasn’t even allowed to present it herself. A man had to present it for her.)

It worked and funds were set aside for the expansion of the Worcester Mental Hospital

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Worcester State Hospital postcard. Photo via worcestermass.com

After this victory, she began traveling to other states to do the same. In the end, she helped establish 32 hospitals for the mentally ill, 15 schools for special needs children, a school for the blind, and several training facilities for nurses. She covered every state east of the Mississippi and then some. She did the same in Europe in the 1840s, covering 13 countries in two years. At home, she continued to be involved in the government as much as she could, which was not much considered the restrictions placed on women. During the Civil War, she became the Superintendent of Union Army Nurses and served for the duration of the war. She spent the last six years of her life in a hospital in Trenton, NJ. She passed away on June 17, 1887.

We’re not done here, though. We haven’t actually talked about her beliefs!

Obviously she believed that mentally ill people deserve to be treated like people. Unfortunately, this way of thinking was radical during her time. The mainstream belief was that mentally ill people could never be cured and they were fine to live in their “dreadful conditions.” Dorothea believed that better living conditions could help treat mental illness. (While it won’t cure you, as someone who has gone through depression and severe anxiety, I can tell you that sometimes just taking a shower and tidying up makes a world of difference.)

About a young woman, she wrote, “some may say these things cannot be remedied, these furious maniacs are not to be raised from these base conditions. I know they are…I could give many examples. One such is a young woman who was for years ‘a raging maniac’ chained in a cage and whipped to control her acts and words. She was helped by a husband and wife who agreed to take care of her in their home and slowly she recovered her senses.”

No one understood the processes in the brain that were occurring in these individuals but Dorothea knew that at the very least, providing them with habitable conditions wouldn’t harm them.

During her life, Dorothea eschewed praise and often did not even put her name on the books that she wrote or hospitals that were opened during her lifetime. Even today, she is mostly unknown. Still, she is responsible for the 19th century shift in thinking about mental health in the US and much of Europe. We still have a long way to go but Dorothea ignited change during a time when everything was against her.

 

 

Sources
Dorothea Dix by Jenn Bumb
Dorothea Dix (1802-1887) by Manon S. Parry
Dorothea Lynde Dix by Tana Brumfield Casarez

What is a Feed Sack Fashion Show?

During the Great Depression, women began using the fabric sacks certain foods, like flour, came in to make clothes for themselves and their families. Times were tough and perfectly good fabric wasn’t going to be wasted. Companies got wind of this and began packing flour and livestock feed in sacks made of patterned fabric.

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This isn’t about flour sack dresses, though…well, not really. This is about a Feed Sack Fashion Show held in Raleigh, NC in 1948, when the war was over and America’s economy was on the upswing. Were feed sack dresses a necessity in 1948? Probably not. But nevertheless, the Farmers Exchange Cooperative and North Carolina Cotton Growers Cooperative Association held a “Fashion Parade” at the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium.

1,500 women from across North Carolina came to show off their creations, 3,400 people came to watch the show, and no dress cost over $1 in materials. Pretty dang impressive.

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The winners: fourth place on the left to first place on the right. Mrs. Albert Eagles of Macclesfield took first place and a prize of $100!

Great job, ladies!

Photos via State Archives of North Carolina.