By Taylor Hsieh ’21
Bobbi Gibb is known as the first woman to ever complete the Boston Marathon– and she wasn’t even allowed to at the time. In 1966 America, she had to hide in the bushes, dressed in a boy’s sweatshirt until the starting gun fired and she could jump into the crowd.
So why is she so important? By running this race when it wasn’t socially acceptable for women to be anything other than a housewife, Bobbi Gibb changed the way the world viewed a woman’s strength– both the physical and mental, forever.
Gibb reflected about what the social scene was like before she ran. As she described it to Women in the World, “We were expected to be housewives, and that’s all … We weren’t expected to have minds, and we weren’t expected to have bodies that ran.” Despite this, Gibb was determined to follow her lifelong passion of running. As she described it, “[Running] was sort of a spiritual thing, and I could get away from society and its rigid ideals…. I never stopped running when normal girls would stop running and settle down. I never became a normal girl.”
Gibb first found out about the Boston Marathon through her father’s friend. She was amazed at the marathoners’ ability to push themselves. It made no difference that every competitor was a man. She was inspired to run up to 40 miles a day– in nurses’ shoes. At the time, companies didn’t even make women’s athletic footwear. Then, despite her extensive training, Gibb was rejected when she submitted her application to run in the Boston Marathon. There were laws that prevented women from running certain distances because it was believed that they physically couldn’t handle it and would faint from exhaustion. However, when most people would’ve given up, she said to herself, “This is so great, because if I could prove this wrong … that’s going to throw into question all the other prejudices and misconceptions that were used to keep women down for centuries.”
She decided to sneak in, knowing that she could get arrested. When she got to the starting line, the other racers knew she was a woman despite her brother’s clothes, but they wished her good luck and the race began. The crowd went wild. Women screamed. Men cheered. Reporters started a live broadcast to capture the unexpected scene.
By simply following through on what she loved, Bobbi Gibb was able to create confidence in women and show that women can do much of the same things men can do. She became an inspirational figure that both women and men could look up to; not just as a feminist, but as a person who stopped at nothing to follow her dreams.
Her persistence paid off and in 1972, the law that restricted women from running over a mile was changed. Years later, when interviewed about her whole experience, she concluded with:
I went back to Boston and ran again in 1967 and 1968. I hope to be an example of someone who follows what they love and what they’re good at. I think everyone came to this world to give something…. I hope that I can help to free other people to follow what they love, to love one another and to get through the kind of hatred we see tearing the world apart.