This Day in History: Boston Marathon

: Kiersten Resch, Herald Reporter

April 19, 1987 – First Boston Marathon

The Boston Marathon, known for being the world’s oldest annual marathon, was first held on this day in history in 1897.

With a total of about 20,000 people participating through the years, The Boston Marathon is now part of the six Abbott World Marathon Majors, which also includes the New York City, Chicago, London, Tokyo, and Berlin marathons.

John Graham, a Boston Athletic Association member and inaugural U.S. Olympic team manager, was inspired by the Olympic games held in Athens, Greece in 1896, leading him to develop the Boston Marathon.

In the creation of this popular marathon, many routes and lengths were discussed in order to land upon the official route of 24.5 miles from the Irvington Oval in Boston to Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland. The first race on April 19, 1897 was run by 15 men with only 10 finishing in the end. Winner John J. McDermott beat the second place winner by 6 minutes and 52 seconds.

In 1908, the marathon length was changed in accordance with the Olympic standards. This new length is the current length of the race, measuring at 26 miles, 385 yards.

The Boston Marathon was first held on Patriot’s Day, April 19, a day which commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord. In 1969, Patriot’s Day was officially moved to the third Monday in April and, in accordance, the Boston Marathon was moved to this Monday as well, and has been held on this day ever since.

In 1972, women were officially allowed to enter the Boston Marathon. Unofficially, the first woman to run the race was Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb in 1966 — she hid in the bushes by the starting line to avoid registration and still ran the entire length of the marathon. Officially, the first woman to register for and run the marathon was Kathrine Switzer in 1967. Registered as “K. V. Switzer,” officials tried to physically remove her from the race when they discovered that Switzer was a woman, but she was able to finish regardless. 

In 1971, the Amateur Athletics Union allowed female entry to the Boston Marathon. Nina Kuscsik became the first female participant to officially win the Boston Marathon in 1972 and was one of seven women to start and finish the race that year.