Gloria Ratti: Historian of the Boston Marathon Who Made History Herself

Historians in the News
tags: sports, Boston Marathon, womens history

Women runners in the 1971 Boston Marathon gathered in a Hopkinton church just before the start of the race for a brief respite from what they knew they faced: harassment from hundreds of male competitors who overwhelmingly outnumbered them and, in many cases, didn’t think they belonged on the course.

Then in walked Gloria Ratti, who would become one of the most important women in the race’s history, even though she never ran a step along the course. She was a volunteer and advocate who over the years changed the way the Marathon operated, always with an eye on equality for women.

“Gloria wore a dress, chic khaki, and had curly hair and had an effervescent smile,” recalled Kathrine Switzer, who in 1967 was the first woman to run the race as an officially registered competitor, in an interview with Runner’s World magazine. “She bustled about the church, relayed the weather reports from her transistor radio, and produced a supply of soap, towels, and tampons, whatever we might need, that no one else in Boston would have thought of. She was helpful but never intrusive, a sort of mother hen.”

Ms. Ratti, a pioneering woman on the Boston Marathon’s board of governors and the race’s historian, died of cancer July 24, the Boston Athletic Association announced. She was 90 and lived in Quincy.

A former board of governors vice president, she became a road race fan by chance. She started volunteering at finish lines at the end of the 1960s when her husband, Charlie, took up running on the advice of his doctor, who wanted him to lower his cholesterol.

“After he started running, he was gone for an hour or an hour-and-a-half at a time during the race and I didn’t have anything to do,” she told the Globe in 1994 for his obituary. “So I decided I should participate too.”

She conceived of some innovations in those early days and later pushed to apply them to the Boston Marathon.

At her husband’s races, “the timers did not time the entire field, so I purchased a stopwatch to record Charlie’s finishes,” she told Runner’s World for a profile of her earlier this year. “I asked the AAU official who was wearing a fedora and overcoat why he didn’t time the entire field and he replied, ‘Sweetie, if you start to do that, they will expect it all the time.’ "

In a statement announcing that Ms. Ratti had died, the BAA said she had pushed the Marathon’s “finish line officials to stay at their posts and record the names and times of all finishers coming through the chute, not just the traditional top 100 as had been the norm. A forward thinker, Gloria knew finishing a marathon — especially the Boston Marathon — was a noteworthy accomplishment and wanted to honor all athletes for their effort. Ever since, the Marathon has kept track of all who’ve crossed the famed Boylston Street finish line.”

Read entire article at Boston Globe

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