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Roberta Louise "Bobbi" Gibb (born 1942, Cambridge, Massachusetts[1][2]) is the first woman to have run the entire Boston Marathon (1966).[3] She is recognized by the Boston Athletic Association as the pre-sanctioned era women’s winner in 1966, 1967, and 1968.[4] Gibb’s run in 1966 challenged prevalent prejudices and misconceptions about women's athletic capabilities.[5]




Early life

Bobbi Gibb grew up in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts during the 1940s and 1950s.[6] She studied at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University School of Special Studies.[7][8] Her father was a professor of chemistry at Tufts. She was already running through the woods with the neighborhood dogs when, in 1962, she met a distance runner at Tufts named William Bingay, who would later become a sailor and her first husband.[9][10][11] They married on February 5, 1966, in California.[11] Her running included daily commuting of the eight miles to school.[9] She ran in white leather Red Cross nurses' shoes because there were no running shoes available for women at the time.[12]

Boston Marathon

Prior to 1966, it was generally believed that women were physiologically unable to run marathon distances.[5] The longest Amateur Athletic Union (AAU)-sanctioned race for women was one and a half miles. Until 1972, when the first women's division marathon opened, the Boston Marathon was a men’s division race, so all the pioneer women who ran before 1972 were, under the AAU rules, unsanctioned runners, running in an as yet to be sanctioned women’s division race.

Gibb trained for two years to run the Boston Marathon, covering as much as 40 miles in one day.[9][13] On writing for an application in February 1966, she received a letter from the race director, Will Cloney, informing her that women were not physiologically capable of running marathon distances and that under the rules that governed amateur sports set out by the AAU, women were not allowed to run more than a mile and a half competitively. She realized that it was more important than ever to run and that her run would have a social significance far beyond just her own personal challenge.

After three nights and four days on a bus from San Diego, California, Gibb arrived the day before the race at her parents' house in Winchester, Massachusetts.[13] On the morning of Patriots' Day, April 19, 1966, her mother dropped her off at the start in Hopkinton.[13] Wearing her brother’s Bermuda shorts and a blue hooded sweatshirt over a black, tanked-top swim suit, she hid in the bushes near the starting pen.[13] After the starting gun fired, she waited until about half the pack had started and then jumped into the race.[14]

The men soon realized that she was a woman. Encouraged by their friendliness and support, she removed her sweatshirt.[7] To her delight and relief, the crowds cheered to see a woman running. The press began to report on her progress towards Boston, history in the making.

Diana Chapman Walsh, the former President of Wellesley College, said of the event:

That was my senior year at Wellesley. As I had done every spring since I arrived on campus, I went out to cheer the runners. But there was something different about that Marathon Day—like a spark down a wire, the word spread to all of us lining the route that a woman was running the course. For a while, the "screech tunnel" fell silent. We scanned face after face in breathless anticipation until just ahead of her, through the excited crowd, a ripple of recognition shot though the lines and we cheered as we never had before. We let out a roar that day, sensing that this woman had done more than just break the gender barrier in a famous race…[15]

By the time Gibb reached the finish line in Boston, the Governor of Massachusetts, John Volpe, was there to shake her hand. She finished in three hours, twenty-one minutes and forty seconds,[11] ahead of two-thirds of the pack. The following morning her feat was front page news in the Record American, where the headline read: “Hub Bride First Gal to Run Marathon.”[16] In another Record American article entitled “Roberta Gets Official Support: Females May Run Marathon,” Jack Kendall wrote:

Roberta the runner may revolutionize Boston’s fabled BAA marathon — and for that matter every other long distance run staged in the country. Even as the bunions acquired from Tuesday’s grueling 26 mile, 385 yard race were subsiding, the furor over a woman’s intrusion into what had been an all-male domain was mounting.
But a spokesman from the New England Amateur Athletic Union has already decided it may be a woman’s world after all.
He plans personally to contact the organization’s national headquarters and seek consideration for suspension of the NAAU rules so that a female who wishes to compete in the marathon can do so.
In his opinion the only way the rule could be circumvented would be through suspension of the rules.[17]

The May 2, 1966 issue of Sports Illustrated featured an article written by Gwilym S. Brown entitled “A Game Girl In A Man’s Game”:

Last week a tidy-looking and pretty 23-year-old blonde named Roberta Gibb Bingay not only started but also covered the 26-mile, 385-yard course at a clip fast enough to finish ahead of no fewer than 290 of the event’s 415 starters.[10]

In 1967, Gibb, now a full-time student at the University of California at La Jolla, returned and ran again. She finished in three hours, twenty-seven minutes and seventeen seconds, almost an hour ahead of the other female competitor, Kathrine Switzer.[11] In 1968, Gibb ran again, finishing in three hours and thirty minutes, first among a growing number of women, which included Carol Ann Pancko, Elaine Pederson, and Marjorie Fish.[18] In 1969, 1970, and 1971, Sara Mae Berman was the women’s winner, and in 1972, Nina Kuscsik was the winner of the first officially-sanctioned women’s division event.

In 1996, at the 100th running of the Boston Marathon and the 30th anniversary of Gibb’s first running of it, the Boston Athletic Association officially recognized her three wins in 1966, 1967, and 1968 and awarded her a medal. Her name was inscribed with the names of the other winners on the Boston Marathon memorial in Copley Square.

Education and career history

Gibb received her B.S. degree from the University of California, in 1969,[13] fulfilling the pre-medical requirements, with a major in philosophy and a minor in mathematics. She has reported she was denied admission to medical school because of her gender.[13] Gibb then worked with Professor Jerome Lettvin at MIT on epistemology and color vision while studying law. In 1974, Gibb entered the New England School of Law,[12] graduating in 1978.[1] She worked as a legislative aide in the Massachusetts State Legislature, studied natural systems, and pursued her interest in sculpture and painting. She joined the Massachusetts Bar in 1979.[1] While raising her family, she practiced law, specializing in real and intellectual property. She worked, for part of that time, in patent law with Jerry Cohen, Esq.

Gibb sculpted the 12-inch bronze figurines of a pony-tailed girl running that were given as trophies to Joan Benoit Samuelson, Julie Brown, and Julie Isphording, the top three women marathoners at the US Olympic trials in 1984.[19][12] Samuelson has commented on her trophy stating: "There are only three in the world. It's irreplaceable."[19][20]

Gibb has been included in Who’s Who of American Women, Who’s Who in America, and Who’s Who in the World. In 1982 she was inducted into the Road Runners Club of America Long Distance Running Hall of Fame,[21] and she has been interviewed for news programs and documentaries on ABC, CBS, NBC, ESPN, and HBO. She was included in the 1999 HBO Sports documentary Dare to Compete: The Struggle of Women in Sports. In 2000, she produced a documentary on her art and running entitled Where the Spirit Leads. She pursues a career in art and writes on a wide range of topics including economics, spirituality, the nature of natural systems, and the phenomenon of subjective experience. Recently she joined the Cecil B. Day Neuromuscular Laboratory, in Boston, as an associate working to find the causes of and cures for neurodegenerative diseases, specifically amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. She divides her time between San Diego and Boston.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Bobbi Gibb - Chronology
  2. ^ Benyo, Richard; Joe Henderson (2001). Running Encyclopedia. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics. p. 124. ISBN 0736037349.  
  3. ^ B.A.A.: Boston Marathon History
  4. ^ B.A.A.: Boston Marathon Past Champions—Women's Open
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ Sosienski, Shanti (2006). Women Who Run. Berkeley, California: Seal Press. p. 3. ISBN 1580051839.  
  7. ^ a b National Art Museum of Sport: Sculptor was first woman to complete the Boston Marathon
  8. ^ O'Reilly, Jean; Susan K. Cahn (2007). Women and Sports in the United States: A Documentary Reader. Boston, Massachusetts: Northeastern University Press. pp. 38–40. ISBN 1555536719.  
  9. ^ a b c Gibb, Bobbi. To Boston with Love: The Story of the First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon
  10. ^ a b Brown, Gwilym S. (May 2, 1966). "A Game Girl In A Man's Game". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2009-08-18.  
  11. ^ a b c d Derderian, Tom (1996). Boston Marathon: The History of the World’s Premier Running Event. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics Publishers.
  12. ^ a b c Creamer, Robert W. (May 28, 1984). "Scorecard". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2009-08-18.  
  13. ^ a b c d e f Gibb, Roberta. “A Run of One’s Own”. Women’s Sports Foundation
  14. ^ "Track & Field: Queen of the Marathon". Time magazine. April 29, 1966.,9171,835462,00.html. Retrieved 2009-08-18.  
  15. ^ "Marathon’s Elite Women Runners Defy Spring Snow to Speak at Wellesley College". Wellesley College News Release. April 10, 1996. Retrieved 2009-08-17.  
  16. ^ (April 20, 1966). “Hub Bride First Gal to Run Marathon”. Record American
  17. ^ Kendall, Jack (April 21, 1966). “Roberta Gets Official Support: Females May Run Marathon”. Record American.
  18. ^ McLaughlin, Dan and Bill Duncliffe (1968). “Babes Bug BAA Bosses.” Record American.
  19. ^ a b Musca, Michael (April 2008). "Finally, One for the Girls: The '84 Women's Olympic Trials Marathon". Running Times Magazine. Retrieved 2009-08-22.  
  20. ^ Moore, Kenny (March 4, 1985). "Her Life Is In Apple Pie Order". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2009-08-22.  
  21. ^ Road Runners Club of America. "Road Runners Club of America: History of the National Award Winners" (pdf). RRCA website. Arlington, Virginia: Road Runners Club of America. p. 1. Retrieved August 17, 2009. "Roberta Gibb-Welch"  

Further reading

  • Cataneo, David (April 21, 1986). “Taking some giant steps for women: Gibb’s gallant ’66 run”. The Boston Herald.
  • Derderian, Tom (1986). Boston Marathon: 100 Years of Blood, Sweat and Cheers. Triumph Books.
  • Derderian, Tom (1996). Boston Marathon: The History of the World’s Premier Running Event. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics Publishers.
  • Higdon, Hal (1995). Boston: A Century of Running. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, Inc.

External links


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