For centuries it was considered unladylike for women to participate in athletics. Fortunately, women have broken through sexist and racist barriers to make athletics more inclusive for everyone. The number of American women who have changed sports is vast. In honor of Women’s History Month, we hope you take some time to read more about all of the heroic female game changers in our country’s history.
Listed below are just a few inspiring stories of female game changers
Gertrude Ederle (1906-2003)
Born in New York, Gertrude Ederle didn’t learn proper swimming form until she was 15 years old. However, by the age of 19, she became the first woman to swim the English Channel. On August 6, 1926, she swam 21 miles from Dover, England to Cape Griz-Nez (the northwestern tip of France). It took her 14 hours and 31 minutes to complete the journey (she beat the previous record by two hours).
Althea Gibson (1927-2003)
Althea broke the race barrier in tennis and has paved the way for tennis champions such as Venus and Serena Williams. On August 25, 1950, Gibson became the first African-American to compete at the U.S. National Championships. She won eleven titles and also became the first African-American to play at Wimbledon. After her successful tennis career, she became the first African-American to compete on the women’s professional golf tour in 1960.
Diane Crump (1948- )
A lover of horses from a young age, Diane began working on a thoroughbred horse farm before she began her career as a horse jockey. In 1970, she rode a horse named Fathom in the Kentucky Derby, becoming the first woman to do so. Over the course of her 15-year career, Diane accumulated 230 victories on the track.
Tidye Pickett (1914- 1986) & Louise Stokes (1913- 1978)
Tidye and Louise were 17 and 18 years old when they won spots in the 1932 Olympics. While they became the first African-American women to be selected for the U.S. Olympic relay team, only white athletes were chosen for the official race. Fortunately, both returned for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin where Pickett became the first African-American woman to compete in the Olympic Games.
Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb (1942- ) & Kathrine Switzer (1947- )
For years the Boston Athletic Association would only accept male applications for the Boston Marathon. When Bobbi’s application was rejected for the 1966 race she showed up anyways. She became the first woman to run and complete the race and she finished in 3:21:40. For the 1967 race, Kathrine submitted her application under the gender-neutral name “K.V. Switzer.” When she showed up and started running the race official tried to rip her race number off her shirt, but she kept going. She became the first woman to officially complete the race. Women were officially allowed to compete in the Boston Marathon in 1972.
American women today are still defying expectations and setting new records. In the 2016 Olympics, Simone Manuels became the first African-American woman to win an individual event in Olympic swimming and Ashleigh Johnson became the first and only African-American woman to compete in an Olympic water polo team. Learn more about these champions here.