Kathrine Switzer, Georgetown alumni, and Sheryl Sandberg

 

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Marathon Woman: Running the Race to Revolutionize Women’s Sports, Kathrine Switzer

I ran the Boston Marathon in 2000. I was solidly middle of the pack, finishing in four hours and six minutes. I ran with a gaggle of girlfriends and we ate oranges, waved at the spectators, and endured heartbreak hill. We were surrounded by other women running near us and soundly beaten by many fleet footed women who managed to also come in ahead of most of the men. We have Kathrine Switzer, in part, to thank for that opportunity. Until 1972, women were specifically banned from running in the race. Ms. Switzer registered using her initials, finished the race despite attempts to pull her from the course, and inspired a movement. In 1972, thanks to her hard work and the work of many others, women were officially allowed to enter. We haven’t looked back since.

We can see the same trajectory in education. Women weren’t allowed to attend college (their minds couldn’t handle it). Then, we were allowed to attend, but only specific schools and we could only study specific subjects. Now, of course, women take the majority of spots in colleges and universities. They are well represented in most programs and sought after post-graduation for jobs. While fair pay still lags, I believe it won’t for long thanks to the hard work of many.

When I worked at Georgetown University with alumni, I loved hearing the stories from women in the sixties and seventies who pushed back in small and large ways to show that they were just as capable, and just as fierce, as any man. I had the honor of meeting the first woman to wear pants to class (I think it was in 1970). She said that nothing happened. It was specifically prohibited in the student handbook, and no one wore pants. But, when she did it no one said anything and from then on, everyone did it. I was born around that time, so it seems so recent and so astounding that rules like that existed. But, strong, secure, and smart women pushed back and have made life easier for all of those who came after. And, they are still doing that.

Sheryl Sandberg says we need to “Lean In.” I know her book and her phrase have been dissected, analyzed, and criticized to the point where people don’t even want to hear it anymore. But, she’s another in a long line of women who are pushing out and stretching up and widening the space that we, as women, occupy. I have three daughters. I want them to “lean in” somewhere, somehow. Most importantly, I want them to have the space and opportunity to be who they want to be. Thanks to people like Katherine, the Georgetown alum and Sheryl, they can run a marathon, wear pants, and lean in.

I love teaching children about Abigail Adams, Helen Keller, Jane Addams, and Sally Ride. But, they also need to read about women today who are still striving, impressing, and improving. I wish there were more books for kids on Kathrine Switzer, Sheryl Sandberg, and the like. I did find these books for kids:

  • Hillary Clinton, Robin S. Doak
  • Learning about Equal Rights from the Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Brenn Jones
  • Condoleeza Rice: My Memoir of My Extraordinary, Ordinary Family and Me, Condoleeza Rice
  • Oprah Winfrey, I Don’t Believe in Failure, Robin Westin
  • Angelina Jolie: Celebrity with Heart, Michael A. Schuman

 

 

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