A Leading Pioneer
Excerpted from article in the October 25, 2011 edition of the New York Times
by Jeré Longman

NEW LONDON, Conn. � Except for a strategic bit of elastic that may be required, the blue running tunic, circa Smith College 1961, still fits. It will be worn again a half-century later, this time in celebration and tribute rather than defiance.

On Thanksgiving Day, Dr. Julia Chase-Brand, 69, plans to run a 4.75-mile race in Manchester, Conn., where the presence of women will be plentiful and unremarkable. Fifty years ago, when she and two other women ran there the first time, it was a widely publicized act of civil disobedience that became a pioneering moment in female distance running in the United States.

In 1961, the Amateur Athletic Union prohibited American women from competing officially in road races. When sympathetic race organizers allowed them entry, their results did not count. Even in the Olympics, women were not allowed to run more than a half-mile lest, it was believed, they would risk their femininity and reproductive health. The most alarmist officials warned that a woman who ran a more ambitious distance might cause her uterus to fall out.

"I consider Julia the first true American woman road racer," said Amby Burfoot, a longtime editor at Runner's World magazine who won the Manchester Road Race nine times, as well as the 1968 Boston Marathon.

"She competed in a big race under the full glare of worldwide publicity and she ran fast," Burfoot said. "She wasn't an oddball looking for publicity. She was a dedicated, well-trained athlete looking for an outlet for her talent."

Chase-Brand has since experienced groundbreaking moments in biology and medicine in a diverse life that seems as populated with florid characters as a Doctorow novel. And with her return to the Thanksgiving race in her original uniform, her running career will have come full circle from outcast to trailblazer.

"Finishing that race was a defining moment for me," said Chase-Brand, who is medical director of outpatient psychiatry at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital here. "If I could handle that pressure, I realized I could go ahead and live my life as I wanted. I could do anything."

Early Start in Running

She began running as a young girl along the woods and ponds of her grandmother's eight-acre farm in Groton, Conn. She caught frogs and turtles; played football, baseball and hockey with four brothers; and ran a mile and a half to school when she missed the bus. Occasionally, she canoed to class through a salt marsh. In college, she sometimes ran barefoot in the snow. She still dreams about the bounding exuberance, the freedom, of running, the feeling of being lighter than air.

"I feel more like myself when I'm out running," Chase-Brand said. "I'm a good animal."

During the mid-1950s, as she rode with her father to daily Mass during Lent, he told her about a wispy figure they spotted named John J. Kelley. He was a schoolteacher doing his early-morning runs on a golf course, a training regimen that would bring him first place in the 1957 Boston Marathon, eight consecutive national marathon titles and entry into the 1956 and 1960 Summer Olympics.

Intrigued, Chase-Brand sometimes walked a railroad spur, waiting for Kelley to run past just to tell him hello. His training partner, another star, named George Terry, remembers a girl running toward them one day on the golf course, following along and ignoring the demands of club officials that she cease and desist.

"Her desire to run seemed insatiable," said Terry, now 81, who became Chase-Brand's coach. "I think Julia was born running."

After a month of formal training, Chase-Brand ran her first race in July 1960, winning the New England championship in the 880-yard run as a 17-year-old high school graduate. Still, some subterfuge was required. Chase-Brand said she listed her hometown as Westerly, R.I., because Connecticut women were not allowed to participate.

Curiously, her father, John W. Chase, who had stoked her interest in running, seemed indifferent. He had been a Rhodes scholar, a writer and an editor who reviewed books for The New York Times. But Chase-Brand remembers his indolent response to her first victory: "Perhaps you'd like to play tennis?"

Instead, she attended the Olympic track trials in Abilene, Tex., wearing her brother's shorts and T-shirt and oversize racing flats that were taped to her feet. Feeling uncomfortable before her 880 race, she ducked under the stands, removed her bra, stuffed it in the pocket of Terry, her coach, and said, "Don't look."

Chase-Brand finished fifth in her semifinal heat and did not qualify for the Olympics, but she knocked 10 seconds off her personal best. She had competed in the same meet with stars like Wilma Rudolph, the world's fastest woman. This intensified her own passion for running, but there were few opportunities for women in distance events. As a freshman at Smith, Chase-Brand showed up at the 1960 Manchester race but was denied entry.

Making a Stand

In 1961, she filed a formal application and, beforehand, unofficially entered a six-and-a-half-mile race in Chicopee, Mass., where she finished 34th and defeated eight men. She also let it be known that she planned to defy the A.A.U. ban on women in Manchester. The news media took up the cause of this 19-year-old sophomore, although in a manner that was as paternalistic as it was supportive.

Newspaper headlines of the day said: "Move Over Marathoners, College Girl Horning In"; "Coed Just Likes to Run, Yet Burly Males Object"; "She Wants to Chase the Boys."

In the accompanying articles, there was an attempt to suggest that Chase-Brand could run and still be considered feminine. Reporters noted that she was smart, pretty and funny. A week before the 1961 Manchester race, The New York Journal American wrote: "Under questioning, Miss Chase said she is 5-4½, weighs 118 pounds and does not know her other dimensions. (Eyewitnesses report her other dimensions are very good.)"

Not lacking a touch of showmanship, Chase-Brand climbed a tree for Life magazine, whose headline noted that her running aspirations put her "out on a limb." She heard from supporters in South Africa and Japan. She appeared in newsreels. A nudist from Poland wanted an outline of her feet.

But she also sensed intense conflict: "Women don't run. You run. What are you?"

Women in other countries were allowed to run distance races, she told intractable race officials. Why not in the United States? She was not the first in her family to attempt to open closed societal doors.

Her great-grandfather William Dudley Foulke was president of the American Woman Suffrage Association in the late 1800s. Her grandmother Mary Foulke Morrisson was a leading suffragist; two months before the 19th Amendment was ratified and women gained the right to vote, she gave a seconding nomination to Herbert Hoover's ultimately failed attempt to gain the presidential bid at the 1920 Republican Convention.

On Nov. 23, 1961, Chase-Brand arrived at Manchester wearing a headband, a skirted running outfit, running shoes and a cross around her neck. Photographs showed her talking to a race official, her palms up, as if pleading her case. She remembers the official asking her to leave. She refused.

"I wasn't masquerading as a male," Chase-Brand said. "I was what I was. I'm a girl, I have a skirt, my hair is done, I have lipstick on and I'm going to run."

Two other women also planned to compete. One of them, Chris McKenzie, was a champion British runner who wore long underwear belonging to her husband, an American and two-time Olympian named Gordon McKenzie. A mother, McKenzie was known to wear T-shirts that said, "If I Can Carry a Baby for Nine Months, I Can Run a 10K."

The other female runner in the field of 138 men was an 18-year-old from Manchester named Dianne Lechausse.

"Chris was the mother of a toddler," Chase-Brand said. "Dianne was a high school student who was a dancer; she was wearing a gym suit with bloomers. If you were trying to beat a stereotype, you couldn't have cast it better."

Spectator Support

Still, the A.A.U. was adamant. Women could not run with men. Terry, the coach, devised a solution. The women would start about a city block behind the men.

"There was no law against somebody going out for a run," he said.

If the A.A.U. was not welcoming, the spectators and other male runners were, Chase-Brand recalled.

"The first guy I passed said, �Go get 'em, girl,' " she said.

McKenzie took the lead among the women but veered off onto the sidewalk before the finish line, fearful of the wrath of A.A.U. officials.

"They told me I would be banned for life if I went through the finish," said McKenzie, who is in her 80s and lives in Great Neck, N.Y.

Chase-Brand kept going and crossed the line in 33 minutes 40 seconds, which would have given her 128th place, ahead of 10 men, if her result had counted. Lechausse also finished, at the back of the field in 41:12.

The next day, The New York Times ran an Associated Press article under the headline "3 Women Beat Some Men in Run." Chase-Brand's scrapbook indicates that in some editions an article about a horse race from New Orleans was inadvertently substituted for the Manchester race.

"They called me a gelding," she said, laughing.

As it turned out, Chase-Brand's achievement was a landmark moment in the evolution of women's running in this country. Some women had competed in a race up and down Pikes Peak in Colorado, but at the time there was scant participation among American female distance runners.

"Manchester was like the Olympics compared to Pikes Peak," Burfoot said. "It was second only to the Boston Marathon in size and importance in the 1950s and '60s. And Julia was like the Grace Kelly of running. She represented the best of what women's running was to become in the decades that followed � a triumph of ability and determination and a refusal to succumb to barriers."

By Burfoot's calculation, Chase-Brand's time in 1961 would have placed her among the top seven percent of all finishers in the 2010 Manchester race. She left Smith to train for the 1964 Olympic trials but ran disappointingly in the half-mile despite a regimen of 80 miles a week.

She said she promised the A.A.U. not to crash any more unsanctioned races with men, so that it might relent and allow longer races for women. Thus, Chase-Brand never realized her dream of running the Boston Marathon. It was left to other women to break that barrier � Roberta Gibb in 1966 and Kathrine Switzer, who eluded an official's attempt to physically remove her from the course, in 1967.

"A promise is a promise," Chase-Brand said, laughing and adding, "Maybe there are some sour grapes."

Instead, she went to graduate school, got her doctorate, became a biologist, married, taught for years at Rutgers and Barnard College and lived in Trinidad, Panama and Australia, performing research that helped show that bats navigate with vision as well as sonar. She was also once featured in Time magazine for a study about how people, along with orangutans and gorillas, display their tongues unconsciously as a universal sign of aversion to social encounters.

Another Milestone

In midcareer, Chase-Brand went off to medical school and became a psychiatrist. In 1996, at age 53, a grandmother of two, she became the oldest person to receive a medical degree at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in the Bronx.

"The women in my family live to be 90 and they don't lose their marbles till 89," Chase-Brand told reporters at the time. "So I figure I've got a few years left."

Despite creaky knees, she ran road races until five years ago, then began looking toward the 50th anniversary of her pioneering race at Manchester. She bikes and swims, does gym workouts and runs once or twice a week. She is dedicating this year's race to those who embraced her 50 years ago and have since traveled the path that she helped to forge.

When Joan Benoit Samuelson won the inaugural women's Olympic marathon in 1984 in Los Angeles, "I cried like a baby," Chase-Brand said.

"She gave a tribute to all the women who made distance running possible," she said. "I took it as a very personal thank you. Maybe she was me if I had been born 10 years later."