Women in the Manchester Road Race: A Matter of Gender
by Ana Foley-Schain
reprinted with permission from the Manchester Road Race web site

Julia Chase felt the time was right for women runners. She had learned about opening doors from her grandmother, Mary Foulke Morrison, a leading suffragette of her day and the woman who gave the seconding address for Herbert Hoover at the 1920 Republican National Convention.

Chase's effort to enter the race did have support from a key male race figure, Dr. Charles Robbins. Robbins, a two-time race winner who was serving as the long distance running representative to the AAU from Connecticut, said women should be allowed to run because "It's the coming thing." Robbins went on to say "President Kennedy's physical fitness program should include everyone, not just half the nation�men. It is important that women maintain physical fitness as well." Robbins said that although the AAU rules prevented women from competing in events with men that the rule was bound to change soon. He noted that "It's being done in other countries and will eventually spread to the United States."

Talking about events of 1961 several years later, Chase said she had planned to just quietly return to Manchester. But she said, it did not work out that way: "About a month before the race I entered a seven mile race in Massachusetts and the Boston papers picked up this story of a woman who had run seven miles and was going to try and run in Manchester. All of a sudden, it just exploded."

On Thanksgiving morning, 1961, under the glare of the media and thousands of spectators, Chase took her spot on the starting line and shocked the running world. She became the first woman in the United States to participate in a major distance road race. She finished in unofficial 128th place, in a field of 157 seasoned, male runners. The anticipation of her running was so great that reporters from national publications, such as the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Life magazine and Look magazine came to Manchester. Film clips were aired by national television networks and Manchester, Connecticut made its mark on the road racing map. In a story headlined, "Tomboy Out on a Limb," Life magazine wrote, "She runs four miles a day, tops off the jog with cartwheels and calisthenics, frequently follows with some tree climbing." A reporter from the Boston Globe wrote, "Julia Chase is causing almost as much dither these days as Amelia Bloomer did when she introduced unconventional ladies garments."

After hearing of Chase's entry, two other women decided to join her on Thanksgiving Day. Chase said, "We went to the starting line and got pushed off to the side. So we slipped through the crowd, jumped in, ran it and finished." Christine McKenzie, a former Olympian for her native England, was the first of these three women to complete the course. For the last 50 yards, she ran almost unnoticed on the sidewalks. She actually never crossed the finish line, because she was concerned about sanctions from the AAU. Julia Chase finished shortly after her. The third women, 18-year old Dianne Lechausse of Manchester, trailed behind most of the race. She did, however, finish in 138th place, ahead of some of the men.

After this trio of women ran the race in 1961, the pressure to allow women to officially enter the race began to build. Race officials said that in addition to the AAU rules, allowing women would cause many problems. They said if women were allowed to enter, there would be too many runners, a need for more room for runners to dress, and financial strains to supply prizes for additional winners in women's categories. Women runners took issue with this logic. One woman, June Mywrang, who wanted to run the race with her husband, said, the real reason women were not being allowed to enter officially was that, "the race has been male for 37 years, and that's the way (the race director) wants it."

In 1972, a member of the newly sanctioned girls cross country team at Manchester High School, sent a letter to the race committee asking them to allow women to compete officially. The girl, Diane Kellsey, wrote: This year girls cross country was officially recognized. The girls competing at a high school level are dedicated athletes, serious about competition. We obviously cannot compete at a male level, but it is only fair that there should be some female division for us to compete within. After all, there is a Schoolboy Division, shouldn't there also be a Schoolgirl Division�the Boston Marathon has finally recognized women as official competitors�must women still be stubbornly overlooked in Manchester?

The next year, 1973, saw women picketing before the race and protesting outside the race headquarters at East Side Rec., and near the starting line. The protestors carried banners saying the race should be open to all runners. At the sound of the starting gun, several picketers dropped their signs and joined the race, trailing in the back of the pack as unofficial entrants.

Apparently the protest made an impact. In 1974, race officials "finally gave in after a 13-year battle to open the competition to all." It was the year women were finally allowed to officially enter the Manchester Road Race. In that year's race field of 1,093, there were approximately 50 women runners. Cynthia Wadsworth, a state high school champion, became the first official women's finisher. Her time was 29:10. It was not until three years later, in 1977, that the women runners became a part of the formal prize structure, with awards for top female runners in various age categories. Even that step was a struggle. It was achieved only after Amby Burfoot made an impassioned plea in 1976 by giving Wadsworth the television set he had been awarded. Burfoot said, "I've won more than my share of prizes in Manchester, and today, I want my prize to go to the first woman finisher, Cynthia Wadsworth." In 1977, Lisa Berry received a prize from the race committee as the first winner of the Woman's Division.

The number of women registered to run in the Manchester Road Race grew quickly in numbers and finishing times became faster. In 1981, Julia Chase Brand returned to run on the 20th anniversary of her historic appearance in the 1961 race. In a letter to Manchester sports editor Earl Yost, Chase wrote: "I'm planning to run again this year, and am trying to get Chris McKenzie to join me. I have no idea how to contact the third girl who ran in '61, Diane LeChausse. It's our 20th anniversary, and since it was rather a landmark case, I thought it would be fun to do a repeat."

Chase Brand, now 39, had not been focusing on running, but had promised to return. "I made up my mind that I would come back to run Manchester again, on the 20th anniversary of my 1961 experience. There was so much less pressure this time. It was lovely."

In 2000, women broke another barrier. Amy Rudolph cracked the top 25 overall finishers, the first time a woman had done this. Coming in 24th place, with a time only 20 seconds from a female course record, Rudolph won the women's division for the fourth time.

Webmaster's Note: We recently received an email from a young lady (8th grade) in Breinigsville, PA, concerning Julian Chase Brand, articles for which she found on our web site. We're reproducing these here. It's good to be reminded, every once in a while, that the work we do in preparing this web site is indeed seen by folks who live outside our immediate area, and is found helpful. Ava's email is a testament to the good work we all do in keeping this site active! (Thanks, Ava!)

1. Initial email from Ava Bendetti, received by Susan Barlow...
To whom it may concern,

My name is Ava Bendetti and I am an eighth-grader at Springhouse Middle School in Breinigsville, Pennsylvania. I am currently working on my National History Day Paper, and found your website very useful. My essay is on Julia Chase-Brand's defiance against the Amateur Athletic Union. To fully understand my topic and all of the amazing women who took a stand in history, I thought I would contact you.

Your opinion on Julia Chase-Brand would help me support her impact on distance running. I want to tell the readers of my paper why you included Julia in your notable website. Hardly anyone knows who she is and I feel like more people should acknowledge the struggles early feminists had to face. If possible, I would love to hear your viewpoint on her story.

Thank you for your time and I hope to receive your response!

Ava Bendetti

2. Reply to Ava from Manchester Road Race Historian Richard Dyer...
Hello Susan and Ava

As Susan told you, Ava, I am the historian for the Manchester Road Race. I have interviewed Dr Julia Chase Brand and written about her. Also, I watched her run the Manchester Road Race in 1961 when she defied Amateur Athletic Union rules and was the first woman to complete the Manchester course. What she did that day was so unheard of and remarkable in that time that Life Magazine published a large photo feature about her entry in the race and her performance that day. Amby Burfoot, a great Marathon champion and friend of Julia's, recently wrote a book entitled "The First Ladies of Running". He devoted a chapter of that book to Julia's pioneering effort at the 1961 MRR.

Julia wanted to run long distances since she was a little girl. When she got to Fitch HS in Groton,Conn. her English teacher was Johnny Kelley. He was an Olympian and Boston Marathon winner. Kelley inspired Julia to take up running. Back then AAU rules prohibited women from running any distance longer than a half mile. Julia quickly became the New England women's half mile champion. She wanted to compete in longer distance races but was barred by the existing rules from doing so. Julia knew that her mentor and coach Johnny Kelley had won the Manchester Five Mile Thanksgiving Day Road Race many times. She tried to enter in 1960, but because of the rules then, race officials turned her away. She came back to Manchester in 1961, when she was a sophomore at Smith College, and this time she made history. When officials again denied her a number she lined up at the start and ran the course anyways. She made history that day by becoming the first woman to ever complete the course and she beat several men. Julia proved then what is obvious today---that female athletes can be great distance runners and should be allowed to participate in all sports. Julia helped to tear down the gender barrier for women long distance runners. As a result of her efforts the rules were eventually changed. Women can now compete in all long distances and routinely run in road races with men.

Julia was motivated by her love of the sport and her strong and principled belief that the existing rule was unfair and needed to be changed. Her Grandmother had been a leader in the movement to get women the right to vote in the U.S. during the 1920s, and I suspect that Julia may have inherited her ancestor's courage and great determination.

I know from speaking with Julia that she definitely has a strong sense of social justice and believes in equality for everyone. It might interest you to know that after college she earned a PhD in biology, taught as a professor, went to medical school and earned her medical degree when she was in her 40s, and practiced psychiatry for many years in New Jersey and Connecticut. She is retired now and lives in Southeast Conn, near where she was raised.

Several years ago I wrote a book about the Manchester Road Race's History. It has a lot of information about Julia Chase Brand. I would be happy to send you a complimentary copy if you email me an address where it can be mailed. I hope this is helpful to you. Kind regards,

Rick Dyer
Manchester Road Race Archivist
PS. You might also find additional info about Julia at the race website:
Click on the history icon.

3. Reply from Ava to Rick and Susan...
I want to thank each one of you for contributing to my research paper. I feel very honored to be able to compete in Regional History Day with your help.

- Ava Bendetti