Before the 1970s, women were not welcome at the world’s great marathons, but a few brave pioneers sought to challenge that system. Six Who Sat tells the story of two iconic moments in women’s running, both captured in photographs. The first, from 1968, is of a race director trying to physically restrain a woman from running the Boston Marathon. The second, from 1972, is of a protest at the New York City Marathon that forever changed women’s ability to participate in the sport they loved.
JODY AVIRGAN: Running is the most popular form of exercise in the world today. In a matter of months, even an inexperienced runner can train for a marathon. And around the globe, there are more than one thousand marathons annually.
But before the 1970s, running was a fringe sport… no one made running shoes in the US — if you wanted them, you had to import a fancy German sneaker by a niche company called Adidas. And women were strongly discouraged from running because doctors believed it was bad for their health.
Hillary Frank takes us behind the scenes of a secretly planned protest at the 1972 New York Marathon… that helped to turn running mainstream and allowed women to race as equals with men.
* * * * *
KATHRINE SWITZER: When I was a young girl people even the milkman, the mailman would go to my mother and say, “Is there something wrong with your little girl? I see her out running.”
LIZ FRANCESCHINI: People would look and “What are they running from? Where are they going? Is there a problem?”
PAT BARRETT: They’d throw something out the window at you from a car you know, maybe like a piece of paper or a soda bottle.
LIZ FRANCESCHINI: And everybody’s dog would chase you and want to bite you.
LYNN BLACKSTONE: I remember an incidence running around with my running buddies, all women, and some guy came up and pinched one of us. Pinched on the rump!
KATHRINE SWITZER: And my girlfriends would say to me, “ You know if you do that you’re going to get big legs you’re going to look like a boy. You’re going to grow hair on your chest.”
HILLARY FRANK: When Kathrine Switzer was starting high school in 1959 she wanted to get on the field hockey team. Her father told her she’d make it if she ran a mile every day. She took his advice. And she made the team — but she fell in love with running.
KATHRINE SWITZER: I never felt closer to my body, or to nature or to the universe or to God or whatever you want to call it than when I was running. And so running in itself always made me feel totally confident, brave, courageous and at one with my total sense of capability.
HILLARY FRANK: So much so that in 1967 Kathrine found herself training to run a marathon.
KATHRINE SWITZER: But people would say, “Oh, you know, you shouldn’t do that. You’re never going to have children, your uterus is going to fall out.”
HILLARY FRANK: Even her doctor thought it was a bad idea.
KATHRINE SWITZER: I mentioned to him that I was running and I’ll never forget because he was sitting across from me at his desk with a cigarette, and he said something like, “Why would an attractive woman like you want to be running a marathon? You really can impair your ability to conceive and your uterus, because you’re going to be constantly impacting it and pounding the pavement. I would definitely not recommend this because you could have a prolapsed uterus.”
HILLARY FRANK: This idea was something a lot of doctors believed at the time.
KATHRINE SWITZER: I just remember walking out of the office and saying, “You know this is really such B.S.” You know, if you have children it’s going to be much more injurious to your system than running. And he didn’t see it that way, obviously.
HILLARY FRANK: Not only was Kathrine up against doctors who didn’t take her running seriously — she was also up against an entire industry, and sports media who didn’t take women seriously.
[WOMEN’S BOWLING BROADCAST,
MALE ANNOUNCER: High on the list of outstanding bowlers in the women’s division, noted for her beauty of form — of course that’s bowling form — is Tilly Taylor.]
[WOMEN’S GOLF TOURNAMENT,
BRIAN MADDEN: Well, good luck to all of you girls — or is it women? I guess that’s the word.
CAROL MANN: Brian, you can call us anything you want because we love ya. [Kissing sound] Come on, give ‘em a little…
ARCHIVAL: Kissing sounds.
BRIAN MADDEN: Thank you. How do you top that?
KATHY WHITWORTH: Me too? Aww!
BRIAN MADDEN: This is Brian Madden, enjoying himself in New York.]
HILLARY FRANK: But then… in 1967… Kathrine made running history.
KATHRINE SWITZER: And I’m probably best known as the woman who broke the gender barrier at the Boston Marathon.
[1970 NYC MARATHON BROADCAST,
MORGAN DEAN: By custom and rule it has been an all-male event. But today somewhere among the thousand pair of hairy legs, somewhere in the swirl of liniment vapor there was perfume and women.]
HILLARY FRANK: In past years, a few other women had snuck into the Boston Marathon — most famously Bobbi Gibb — who had run faster times than many men. But Kathrine was the first woman to enter and receive an official number: 261.
KATHRINE SWITZER: I signed my name K.V. Switzer when I registered for the Boston Marathon. I was not trying to defraud anybody or fool anybody. That’s how I had started signing my name since I was 12-years-old.
HILLARY FRANK: Kathrine started the race with her coach, Arnie Briggs, her boyfriend Tom Miller, and a cross-country teammate, John Leonard.
KATHRINE SWITZER: … and I was so happy because I was really surrounded by like-minded people.
KATHRINE SWITZER: At a mile and a half the press truck came by us.
HILLARY FRANK: The bus was full of reporters and photographers.
KATHRINE SWITZER: And we were laughing at first and waving because they were obviously all in a flutter about a girl in the race wearing a bib number.
HILLARY FRANK: Kathrine ran behind the bus. She was in a rhythm… along with the rest of the runners.
KATHRINE SWITZER: You hear the pat-pat, pat-pat, pat-pat of running shoes. All of a sudden, I heard a scraping noise of leather shoes.
HILLARY FRANK: It was the race director, Jock Semple.
KATHRINE SWITZER: And I turned, and the moment I turned I saw the fiercest face of any guy I’ve ever seen.
[1967 BOSTON MARATHON VIDEO,
FEMALE NARRATOR: An official named, appropriately enough, Jock, ran after her and tried to rip the number off her back. Race officials were scandalized; they said women weren’t allowed to run more than a mile and a half.]
KATHRINE SWITZER: And then he scrapped me and he screamed at me, “Get the hell out of my race and give me those bib numbers.”
KATHRINE SWITZER: My first instinct was to run because I was really scared. He was cursing at me, he was clearly out of control. I was just trying to get away and he was pulling me by the shirt. And my instinct was, “I’m in some kind of bad dream. I’m in a nightmare here surrounded by yelling people, grinding cameras, clicking shutters.”
HILLARY FRANK: Pictures of this moment were printed in papers all over the country. Kathrine, number 261, twisting around mid-run to see Jock Semple charging at her in a dark overcoat; Jock Semple yanking the number on her back… and then…
KATHRINE SWITZER: Boom! My boyfriend hit him and he flew to the air as far as I could see and suddenly I was really terrified. I thought, “Oh my God. We’ve killed this guy.”
KATHRINE SWITZER: After I got over my fear I got very angry and I was determined to finish the race. And I remember turning to my coach and saying, “I’m going to finish this race on my hands and my knees if I have to. Because if I don’t finish it, everybody’s going to think women don’t belong here, they don’t deserve to run, and they can’t do it anyway. I’ve got to prove that women can do it.”
[1970 NYC MARATHON BROADCAST,
MORGAN DEAN: Most of the male runners figured any woman wants to run 26 miles in the driving rain, let her run. But veteran Boston trainer Jock Semple thought the whole thing was silly.
JACK SEMPLE: No, there’s enough competition for women. Why do they want to tackle the toughest thing in the world? It’s just women and their stubbornness that just want to do something they’re not supposed to do, that’s all there is to it. You know that, you’re married.]
KATHRINE SWITZER: By the time I finished the race, I was a non-entity. I was totally banned and totally disqualified.
HILLARY FRANK: A non-entity because of the rules set by the Amateur Athletic Union — or, the AAU. They were the organization that governed all amateur competitive sports in the United States.
KATHRINE SWITZER: The race director had gone on to the finish line and called the AAU, had me disqualified from the race and had me expelled from the Amateur Athletic Union for running with men, for running more than a mile and a half which was the longest distance for women in cross-country, for fraudulently entering the race because I’d signed the race form with my initials. And finally, because I had run without a chaperone. So these were AAU rules that still existed for a 20-year-old woman in 1967.
[ AAU VIDEO,
NARRATOR: We’re the AAU, a bunch of local amateurs that give athletes a chance to compete, develop and excel.]
HILLARY FRANK: The AAU organized every major track and field event, every marathon. They decided who was worthy of competing in other countries, who would go to the Olympics.
AMBY BURFOOT: They ruled with an absolutely iron first, and we were all deathly afraid of them.
[ AAU VIDEO,
NARRATOR: Support your local amateurs with your time, your money, yourself.]
AMBY BURFOOT: My name is Amby Burfoot. I’m the 1968 winner of the Boston Marathon and a longtime editor and writer for Runner’s World Magazine.
HILLARY FRANK: Many male runners were sympathetic to Kathrine Switzer… but nobody wanted to cross the AAU.
AMBY BURFOOT: We were very fearful that the AAU would rule us ineligible to compete, and people kowtowed to all of their rules because the officials of all the road races and track meets were intimidated by them also.
KATHRINE SWITZER: If you were banned from the AAU you weren’t allowed to compete at all in any other races because you might contaminate the rest of the field.
HILLARY FRANK: Contamination. This is a word the AAU used a lot… and there were many ways to be contaminated. One way was by running with a non-amateur — a professional.
AMBY BURFOOT: If there was one professional athlete in a road race — let’s say he was a Major League Baseball player for some reason, and he jogged in a race that you were in — he was professional because he was paid, and his participation in the race contaminated you.
HILLARY FRANK: And… You could be contaminated by running with a woman.
AMBY BURFOOT: When women started competing in the sport of long distance running, the contamination rule early on was applied to them as well. And you could you could catch the flu and never be allowed to go to the Olympic Games, so to speak.
KATHRINE SWITZER: I would say that the AAU was taking a paternalistic look at women’s sports. They were looking at their wives and daughters and imagining, “Can we possibly allow this.” And therefore, it was the domain of men.
HILLARY FRANK: Kathrine Switzer was banned from the AAU. She wouldn’t be ranked and her time wouldn’t be recorded. But race directors still found a way for her to run — unofficially.
KATHRINE SWITZER: I was invited to many, many races when I was banned as an athlete. And it was hilarious, and there was my bib number, let’ say, you know, thirty-two, and it said, “unofficial” on it, and then I would finish the race and I would get the unofficial first woman prize and they would award me an unofficial trophy.
HILLARY FRANK: But being unofficial made it difficult for women to advance and not just Katherine, but more and more female runners around the country.
NINA KUSCSIK: It just seemed like they were behind the times.
HILLARY FRANK: Kathrine wasn’t the only one who had crashed the Boston Marathon. Nina Kuscsik was another female runner frustrated by the AAU — and she wanted to fight back.
KATHRINE SWITZER: She wasn’t a long-limbed leggy runner. But she moved, she motored. She was lively, feisty, short brown hair often wore a headband and had a wicked little laugh and a little giggle.
[1972 CRAZY LEGS MINI MARATHON.
REPORTER: Well Mrs. Kuscsik. What’s so attractive about running?
NINA KUSCSIK: It’s so earthy. But it’s something you do all on your own. You create your run, nobody helps you and nobody hinders you and you’re just out there in the environment, whatever it may be, and it’s just you, you and the world.]
KATHRINE SWITZER: I knew of Nina Kuscsik because she ran the Boston Marathon.
NINA KUSCSIK: Of course I couldn’t enter — it wasn’t official.
HILLARY FRANK: Nina didn’t start out as a runner…but running intrigued her…
NINA KUSCSIK: Because I was a speed skater, bike racer. We used to run for dry training in ice skating. And then we heard about the Boston Marathon, my husband and I, and two of the ice skating friends. And we decided that we would train and enter the Boston Marathon.
HILLARY FRANK: Nina couldn’t get a bib, or formally enter the race. But the course ran through public streets — so no one could stop her from running it.
NINA KUSCSIK: And so we all got in the car, and drove to Boston, and ran the marathon.
KATHRINE SWITZER: Oh I was full of admiration for her.
HILLARY FRANK: Kathrine could see what was clear to every runner who watched Nina — she was a gifted athlete.
NINA KUSCSIK: Oh, I was competitive – yeah, but I did it because I loved it and if you’re competitive you’re gonna work harder at it.
HILLARY FRANK: Nina became the second woman to run a marathon in under three hours.
[1976 ALL WOMEN MINI MARATHON,
ARCHIVAL: Crowd cheering.]
KATHRINE SWITZER: I was watching every race she ran and she was getting faster. And I wasn’t improving as fast as she was, so naturally, she piqued my competitive spark to train harder and she simply wanted equality in the sport for us. And she didn’t want it to be considered unusual or that we were oddities. So I was very happy when I finally got a chance to meet her.
HILLARY FRANK: Nina and Kathrine joined forces in 1970 — along with a few other women who wanted get the AAU rules changed.
KATHRINE SWITZER: It was Sarah Mae Berman in Boston, Nina Kuscsik in Long Island, me in Syracuse. Another woman in New York City named Patricia Tarnovsky. And in California, there was a very big women’s running movement. And they were very vocal also about their need for equality.
HILLARY FRANK: Still, the AAU insisted that, quote “only a handful of older women” were involved in long distance running.
KATHRINE SWITZER: My attitude was — if you give people the opportunity they will emerge. If you intimidate them, they’re not going to show up.
HILLARY FRANK: Nina decided something had to be done.
NINA KUSCSIK: You had to be somebody involved in the AAU to get the rules changed. And so I joined the AAU.
HILLARY FRANK: Nina joined the Long Distance and Women’s committees and became deeply involved in her local chapter.
KATHRINE SWITZER: And she went to committee meeting, after committee meeting, after committee meeting in New York.
NINA KUSCSIK: My mother would have to babysit and I’m doing all kinds of paperwork.
HILLARY FRANK: And then, in 1971, Nina made a breakthrough.
NINA KUSCSIK: I forget where the convention was, but I went to the annual convention.
HILLARY FRANK: That was where all the committees met to agree on changes to rules.
NINA: I got the rules changed. Women could run up to ten miles, and certain women could run the marathon.
[1972 CRAZY LEGS MINI MARATHON,
REPORTER: Mrs. Kuscsik, you were in the Boston Marathon recently, weren’t you?
NINA KUSCSIK: Yes, yes.
REPORTER: Tell me about that.
NINA KUSCSIK: This is the first year that women have been officially recognized and there were eight women and we had one hundred percent finishes. The men didn’t rate nearly as well.]
HILLARY FRANK: It was a huge win — with a hitch. Only some women could run some marathons.
NINA: Whatever that was supposed to mean.
HILLARY FRANK: The AAU decided which women could run. Women who wanted to run longer than ten miles needed special permission. And there was another hitch — if women were let into a men’s race…
NINA KUSCSIK: …we had to start at a different starting place or starting time. From the men.
HILLARY FRANK: Women running with men had to be scored differently, and start separately.
NINA KUSCSIK: Because you can’t compete with the men. You can’t take advantage of running with men. You had to run with your own competitors, no having a man in front of you breaking the wind (laughs). I mean they didn’t say it that way, but that’s the way they meant it.
KATHRINE SWITZER: We think running in a way is above gender and divisiveness and exclusion and it’s about inclusion. Also, when you’re included, you’re included. If you’re invited to a dinner party, you don’t go sit at the children’s table.
HILLARY FRANK: Meanwhile, in New York City there was a man who also wanted a seat at the grownup table:
[ABC EVENING NEWS,
PETER JENNINGS: Fred Lebowitz was born in 1932 in Romania.]
GEORGE HIRSCH: He was a character he was unique. Incredible backstory to Fred.
[ABC EVENING NEWS,
FRED LEBOW: When I was a kid all I wanted was to survive, you know, we were hiding from the Nazis, then hiding from the Soviets and finally going out into the world and seek a better life.]
GEORGE HIRSCH: Fred and I talked every day, he was a very close friend of mine.
HILLARY FRANK: George Hirsch is a longtime runner. He’s the founding publisher of New York Magazine and became the publisher of Runner’s World. He met Fred in 1969.
GEORGE HIRSCH: He probably was an ordinary guy just to observe him. But he was hardly an ordinary person.
[ABC EVENING NEWS,
PETER JENNINGS: Lebowitz became Lebow in America. After World War II, Fred settled in New York.
FRED LEBOW: And took up later on my life a sport which was so strange to the world.]
HILLARY FRANK: The strange sport of — running.
GEORGE HIRSCH: Fred generally wore running shoes, no matter what that was kind of a signature.
FRED LEBOW: For number of years I experimented in going everywhere in my running clothes, all appointments, no matter where I went. Whether I have a meeting with the mayor or a concert, I would wear running clothes.]
GEORGE HIRSCH: Fred sensed that running could become a big-time thing. He got that.
HILLARY FRANK: Back then, the Boston Marathon was the only big city marathon in existence. New York did have a marathon, but…
[PERSON OF THE WEEK,
PETER JENNINGS: When only a handful of runners left the starting line for that first New York Marathon in 1970, hardly anyone noticed.]
GEORGE HIRSCH: In the beginning, it was a pretty amateurish event. Just four loops around the park. I have to say, the world did not wake up and notice it.
[PERSON OF THE WEEK,
PETER JENNINGS: Fred Lebow noticed. Before long he was the New York Road Runners Club President and the Marathon’s director.]
HILLARY FRANK: The New York Road Runners Club was small and scrappy. They met in people’s apartments, in sandwich shops. But Fred was a dreamer…
GEORGE HIRSCH: And Fred very much had a goal, a spoken goal he wasn’t shy about it.
HILLARY FRANK: His goal:
GEORGE HIRSCH: New York City was going to be the best marathon in the world.
[PERSON OF THE WEEK,
PETER JENNINGS: He has certainly generated big-time publicity. Critics have called him a blatant self-promoter… which he doesn’t deny.
FRED LEBOW: To be honest, if one is not a promoter in New York City in this age — not gonna go too far.]
HILLARY FRANK: In 1972, Fred had his most cunning idea yet. And it involved his two favorite things — Running… and women.
KATHRINE SWITZER: Fred was a great ladies man. He loved women.
GEORGE HIRSCH: Called them “vomen” with his accent.
HILLARY FRANK: Fred was well aware of the women’s fight with the AAU. He knew Nina Kuscsik — she was in the New York Road Runners Club.
NINA KUSCSIK: We probably talked to him every other day or something.
HILLARY FRANK: They got together and collaborated on a publicity stunt, which was designed to grow the New York Marathon and prove that women were capable of running more than a few miles.
This idea of Fred’s — it was showy — and it celebrated a certain part of the female figure. The part used for running.
[CRAZY LEGS COMMERCIAL,
MALE ACTOR: There’s always a great crop of legs in this country. But legs, like any beautiful growing thing, need moisture. When women shave, they take moisture away. They should use this: Crazylegs.]
KATHRINE SWITZER: A sponsor, Johnson’s Wax, had created a ladies shave cream called ‘Crazy Legs’ and they were looking for a product launch.
HILLARY FRANK: Kathrine says that the company thought they could capitalize on these women runners, and the attention they were now receiving. It could be great press coverage for their brand new product — beyond just a commercial on TV.
[CRAZY LEGS COMMERCIAL,
MALE ACTOR: Not just for a great shave, but for great skin — use Crazylegs. It’ll be the best year for legs ever. Crazy.]
KATHRINE SWITZER: When they saw Nina and me in the Boston Marathon and all the publicity we had gotten, they went to Fred Lebow and said, we want to do a women’s marathon in New York City, we want Nina and Kathrine there, and we could call this the Crazy Legs Marathon.
KATHRINE SWITZER: He said, ‘How about we do one lap of Central Park which is exactly six miles, and we call it the mini-marathon because the mini skirt was in fashion then. Nina and I were wearing mini skirts. And I said, “Cool! That’s very cool.”
[WOMEN’S LIBERATION DOCUMENTARY,
NARRATOR: Is it mini, midi, or maxi? Every woman gets to choose, and that is women’s lib.
KATHRINE SWITZER: So he proposed the Crazy Legs Mini Marathon to Johnson’s Wax. They loved the idea.
[WOMEN’S LIBERATION MARATHON,
REPORTER: What do you think of this Crazy Legs thing here?
KATHRINE SWITZER: Oh I think it’s fantastic because this is a real breakthrough for women. The big thing is that women are being recognized as runners and as athletes and have a race that’s exclusively theirs.]
HILLARY FRANK: But, the sponsor, the miniskirt reference, the clever name, this still was not enough for Fred Lebow.
KATHRINE SWITZER: Fred said to Nina and me “We’re not getting enough publicity. I’m going to go to the Playboy Club and I’m going to get Playboy bunnies to come out.” You know, that’s another Fred thing. He was kind of man about town, he knew all the nightclubs and the Playboy Club and all these kinds of places. And so he would chat up these girls and say, “Hey listen, I’m going to put your name and your image in the newspaper, you’re going to be famous.”
MALE NARRATOR: Oh yes, view her as you will, a bunny can be most appealing.]
KATHRINE SWITZER: And we had a press conference with the Commissioner of Parks, which was right there by the Tavern on the Green. But there were the Playboy bunnies with their high boots and their short shorts.
HILLARY FRANK: Reporters wanted to know — would the bunnies actually run?
[WOMEN’S LIBERATION MARATHON,
MAN: They certainly will, they’re New Yorkers and they’re part of the Sports For New Yorkers program.
REPORTER: What about that, are you?
BUNNY 1: (giggling) Oh sure!
BUNNY 2: Definitely.
REPORTER: You looking forward to it?
BUNNY 2: Oh yeah, definitely.]
HILLARY FRANK: The bunnies didn’t run. Nina wasn’t happy about that.
NINA KUSCSIK: The thing I didn’t like is, I’d rather have people go in there and try, even if they walked the whole thing to finish it.
HILLARY FRANK: But that’s not why Fred got them involved. This was classic PT Barnum Fred. It was a stunt.
KATHRINE SWITZER: Of course, you know when he would do something like the Playboy bunny thing, Nina and I’d look at each other and go, “Oh, give me a break.”
KATHRINE SWITZER: It’s crazy thinking about Playboy Bunnies being part of any publicity for a women’s running race. But at the time it was Fred Lebow doing his thing getting publicity any way he could.
HILLARY FRANK: Fred wound up recruiting 78 women to run in Crazylegs. Which is about 70 more than they thought they’d have.
KATHRINE SWITZER: And I often called him a huge male chauvinist who was a huge, huge supporter and believed totally in women’s equality.
KATHRINE SWITZER: So, he knew how to manipulate women. But he also knew how to manipulate for women.
HILLARY FRANK: Fred’s publicity stunt gave Kathrine and Nina and the other women runners a successful and newsworthy race — one that was intended to send a message to the AAU that long-distance female runners were serious.
HILLARY FRANK: And that message came at exactly the right moment.
KATHRINE SWITZER: I must say 1972 was so enormous, women were admitted to the Boston Marathon.
HILLARY FRANK: … some women… with a separate start time… that was in April…
KATHRINE SWITZER: And then in May, the Crazy Legs Road Race. And then in middle June…
[TITLE IX GYM CLASS,
REPORTER: Title IX requires schools to open up facilities to men and women alike on an equal basis, especially in such areas as home ec and shop, which have been traditionally segregated by sex.]
KATHRINE SWITZER: …Richard Nixon’s signing into law the Title IX amendment to the Constitution which effectively leveled the playing field in sports for women in the United States.
[WOMEN IN SPORTS: AN INFORMAL HISTORY,
NARRATOR: Women want all the rewards that sport can offer, the joy of performance, the satisfaction of striving, and all the lessons to be learned from competing with others.]
KATHRINE SWITZER: And that, that impact was huge.
KATHRINE SWITZER: A rising tide lifts all ships.
HILLARY FRANK: Title IX was a game changer, but it didn’t change things overnight. It would be a few years before the new law was fully implemented and start to really have an effect.
HILLARY FRANK: And in New York City, the AAU was holding fast.
HILLARY FRANK: Sure, they would allow women to run in the 1972 New York Marathon…but not in the same race as the men. The women would have to start ten minutes earlier.
NINA KUSCSIK: They needed the women to be identified separately, but it seemed unfair then. It just seemed a little still discriminatory.
HILLARY FRANK: But New York was Fred Lebow’s marathon.
HILLARY FRANK: And he wanted to help the women.
NINA KUSCSIK: Fred was right behind us all the way.
HILLARY FRANK: And by now, so were some other male runners.
PAUL FETSCHER: We wanted to send a clear message to the AAU that it was the desire of the women to run with the men.
HILLARY FRANK: Paul Fetscher helped lead the New York City Road Runners club, alongside Fred — he was Vice President that year.
PAUL FETSCHER: So sometimes you’ve got to listen to the athletes.
HILLARY FRANK: The athletes didn’t want a ten-minute gap between the men’s and women’s races.
NINA KUSCSIK: Well I was an adult and I don’t have to take this anymore!
HILLARY FRANK: Nina, Paul, and Fred decided to put their heads together. Kathrine was out of the country.
KATHRINE SWITZER: I was working as a journalist at the Munich Olympic Games. But I knew whatever was going to be going on with the race, the fight was in really good hands.
HILLARY FRANK: Not long before the big race, the New York Road Runners Club met up. All the leaders and competitive runners were there. Plus some girlfriends, and wives.
PAUL FETSCHER: I would say that probably happened at the Subway. Let me correct that — it was at Blimpie.
JANE MUHRCKE: I guess Blimpie’s are gone, but it’s sort of like a Subway.
HILLARY FRANK: Jane Muhrcke was there. She was married to one of the runners.
PAUL FETSCHER: It was at Blimpie, and it was on the ground floor of 15 Park Row.
JANE MUHRCKE: It had just long tables, and there would probably be, eight-to-twelve people that were involved with the Road Runners Club, and that was their meeting ground. They didn’t have an office.
NINA KUSCSIK: I just remember we got together and talked and we decided —
PAUL FETSCHER: And I don’t remember if I said it, Nina said it, Fred said it.
HILLARY FRANK: They came up with a plan. Maybe if they took a stand, they could get the AAU to let men and women run the same race together, once and for all. And, Fred hoped, make the New York Marathon a really big deal. Bigger than Boston.
PAUL FETSCHER: “That’ll work!”
HILLARY FRANK: The group agreed to keep the plot a secret… and let it drop as a surprise… on race day.
[1964 OLYMPICS MARATHON,
NARRATOR: …Then the start of the marathon run, 26 miles, and 385 yards…]
HILLARY FRANK: Fred had invited lots of reporters to the event. Gerald Eskenazi of the New York Times was one of them. He admits that women’s sports were not high on the priority list even for the country’s most prestigious paper.
GERALD ESKENAZI: The only reason we covered women in sports was their looks for the most part, you know, they were not perceived as athletes per se.
HILLARY FRANK: But Gerald came to the marathon. He liked covering events because they were an easy way to rack up bylines.
GERALD ESKENAZI: I thought it was would just be great on my resume, you know because I had been doing a lot of feature writing and things like that. I didn’t think it would be some sort of seminal moment in the women’s movement.
HILLARY FRANK: Altogether, there were less than three hundred runners registered to run that morning.
GERALD ESKENAZI: You barely had enough for a pinochle game back then.
HILLARY FRANK: Of the 278 runners, only 6 of them were women. Jane Muhrcke, from the Blimpie’s meeting, was one of them.
JANE MUHRCKE: We were getting ready to leave to get into the city, into Central Park, and just very quickly went to find something to wear. And I ended up taking my husband’s Superman shirt. It was kind of a last minute thing.
LIZ FRANCESCHINI: We all got our gear on and our running shoes.
HILLARY FRANK: Woman Number 2: Liz Franceschini.
LIZ FRANCESCHINI: We lived on the Upper West Side. And walked over — it wasn’t too far.
PAUL FETSCHER: It was probably about a 9 a.m. start. So we get out there and get ready to run.
HILLARY FRANK: Paul Fetscher’s girlfriend at the time was woman number 3 — Cathy Miller. Nina, woman number 4, was there… warming up at the starting line — and Lynn Blackstone, number 5…
LYNN BLACKSTONE: I was called over to where the start of the race was.
GERALD ESKENAZI: And the way the women were acting seemed strange to me. There was sort of a conspiratorial thing going on.
PAT BARRETT: They started handing out signs. I didn’t know what was going on.
HILLARY FRANK: Pat Barrett, woman number 6, was technically still a girl. Seventeen years old, a high school cross country champion from New Jersey. The only female on her cross country team — and the only woman at the starting line who was not in on the secret plan.
PAT BARRETT: All the women started saying something to do with the AAU.
HILLARY FRANK: Pat had just shown up to run but it was suddenly clear that whether she liked it or not, she was about to be a part of something more… something involving a flurry of handmade signs.
LYNN BLACKSTONE: I didn’t make the sign, it was handed to me.
LIZ FRANCESCHINI: So the next thing I know, someone has handed me a banner and then everyone’s got one.
PAUL FETSCHER: The women are standing there, on the line, holding the signs behind them.
HILLARY FRANK: The male runners were milling about, waiting for the women to run so they could begin their own race. One guy tried to rally the crowd in a chant — “Men and women together!” — but it didn’t take. Meanwhile, Fred and Paul waved over the journalists.
PAUL FETSCHER: I told the photographers before, “Guys, you might want to get over here. You might want to get a picture of what’s going to happen.”
HILLARY FRANK: It was just about start time for the women’s race. The gun would go off any second.
LIZ FRANCESCHINI: Before the gun, ooh, that was nervous-making.
PAUL FETSCHER: Fred was the race director. He called everybody to the line. Fired the gun —
[ARCHIVAL: Countdown. Gunshot.]
HILLARY FRANK: And then…
LYNN BLACKSTONE: The gun went off…
PAT BARRETT: We all just sat on the starting line.
HILLARY FRANK: A woman in the crowd shouted: “Right ON!” A man screamed, “Chauvinist pig!” And then…
LYNN BLACKSTONE: …we sat there.
HILLARY FRANK: Nobody ran. The women just sat there all in a row.
LIZ FRANCESCHINI: I remember it being quite calm.
HILLARY FRANK: A photographer snapped a picture.
PAUL FETSCHER: I was standing next to the photographer from the New York Times who took that photo. It was a great shot.
HILLARY FRANK: What the photographer saw through his lens were six women seated on the pavement. Most of them smiling, looking at the crowd. Jane’s face beaming over the Superman logo on her shirt… and her sign…
JANE MUHRCKE: The poster that I had said, “Hey, AAU, it’s 1972, Wake up.”
HILLARY FRANK: Others said, “The AAU is archaic.”
LIZ FRANCESCHINI: I said they were “archaic.” The rules were archaic, I remember that.
DAVID WEINSTEIN: It’s spelled wrong.
LIZ FRANCESCHINI: Yes.
HILLARY FRANK: Another read, “The AAU is unfair.”
PAUL FETSCHER: The night before I made all the signs.
GERALD ESKENAZI: One of them said that the AAU is medieval spelled M-I-D-E-V-I-L.
PAUL FETSCHER: And I apologize for misspelling medieval.
HILLARY FRANK: Only one woman — Pat — was not holding a sign.
PAT BARRETT: I didn’t know at that age, I was 17 — I didn’t know what they’d do to me if I held a sign up.
HILLARY FRANK: Pat’s running career had only just begun. Losing her AAU card meant possibly losing a future.
PAT BARRETT: You know, I went to a Catholic school and you didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know what the AAU was going to do to me. I wanted to definitely support the women. I just didn’t feel comfortable holding a sign then. So I was there, I sat in the line.
HILLARY FRANK: The photographers snapped away as the minutes ticked by. Ten of them.
HILLARY FRANK: It was now time for the men’s race to begin. The women stood up. And the gun went off for a second time.
At which point, the men took off running, including Fred Lebow… and so did the women or some of them.
LYNN BLACKSTONE: As I recall I did not. I just got up and walked to the side.
JANE MUHRCKE: I don’t know how many yards I went but I just ducked out, I wanted to get kind of out of the way.
HILLARY FRANK: Fred Lebow ducked out too, complaining of heartburn. But two women finished the marathon that day: Nina Kuscsik and Pat Barrett. Because they started with the men, though — because they sat — 10 minutes were added to their time. It was the only way the AAU would consider the race valid.
NINA KUSCSIK: Well it just wouldn’t be our fastest marathons but this was very important to protest.
PAT BARRETT: I really don’t care in the record book if it says I ran such and such. Because I know myself what I accomplished. It could be printed in the New York Times, what time I ran, a 3:29 – but I know I ran a 3:19 on that course and I was proud of that.
HILLARY FRANK: That was a personal record for Pat. Even better, the secret plot worked — the AAU noticed.
PAUL FETSCHER: Rudy Sablo, S-A-B-L-O, was the managing director of the AAU at that time. And he goes, “I heard about your stunt!” “Oh?” and he goes, “Yeah! you know, you fired the gun, and the women didn’t run!” I go, “What are we supposed to do? Kick ’em? Beat ’em? Whip ’em? What do you think we should have done?” And he had no answer.
HILLARY FRANK: Gerald Eskenazi wrote an article about that day for the New York Times.
GERALD ESKENAZI: I had never seen a demonstration by women before. I mean I had never seen any bra burning, and to see women go against the establishment. Struck me at once as being odd because I didn’t think of women fighting back. On the other hand, there was something I thought at the same moment what would I tell my mother about this, you know?
HILLARY FRANK: In his article, Gerald quoted Arnold Guy Fraiman, a State Supreme Court Justice, who finished twenty nine places behind Nina Kuscsik: “It’s a damn shame,” he said. “Nina is a first‐rate competitor. Any court would declare the ban unconstitutional.”
Above the article, on page thirty-nine, the Times printed the photo of the six women sitting. It took up four columns. Soon after, the AAU scrapped their discriminatory rule.
KATHRINE SWITZER: I think AAU looked silly because here we were at the surge of the women’s feminist movement in general, where there were lots of signs and sit-down strikes and demonstrations. And I think that that was not only a slightly embarrassing thing for them but it was a wakeup call to — come on. Let’s get real.
KATHRINE SWITZER: I definitely believe that the sit-down strike in New York was both a publicity stunt and both a statement for women’s equality. And I think that they could live side by side.
KATHRINE SWITZER: It’s like saying the women marching in the streets today or even at the height of the feminist movement in the early 70s, late 60s, that carrying signs was a publicity stunt. Of course. We’re trying to get attention for a cause.
HILLARY FRANK: They got attention for their cause… and they also got attention for Fred’s cause. Within 4 years, the New York Marathon was a 5-borough race — and the number of participants grew from under 300 to over 2000. Today it’s the biggest marathon in the world. One where men and women line up together. Where the glory is shared by everyone, whether you have a uterus or not.
KATHRINE SWITZER: Fred in his heart believed in running and he believed in people running whether they are males or females. Bottom line is — he wanted everybody to feel like the hero in their own life and that running can do that for people because he felt it. He said, “Running has made me feel like I can do anything. I’d like everybody to feel this way.”
NINA KUSCSIK: The rhythm of the run, it just frees your mind, your life, you can think about anything you wanted. It just gave you a different kind of life that was so welcome.
Running gives you freedom.
Six Who Sat
This Episode was created in partnership with Transmitter Media.
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Erin Leyden, ESPN Films Senior Producer and Series Editor
Hillary Frank, Host and Editor
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Gerald Eskenazi’s original New York Times article about the protest is headlined In New York’s Marathon, They Also Run Who Only Sit and Wait.