Dipsea set to celebrate 100th anniversary of first Women’s Hike April 21, 1918

Marin IJ – By Barry Spitz – Apr 21, 2018

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Photo: In 1919, some 5,000 spectators lined the main road through Stinson Beach to watch the finish of the second Women’s Dipsea Hike. Reaching the town was difficult before Panoramic Highway opened in 1929. Courtesy of The Dipsea Race.

One hundred years ago — April 21, 1918 — Marin hosted a landmark event in the long, ongoing quest for women’s equality in sports, and in society in general.

It was the Women’s Dipsea Hike, called a hike only because women were barred from running distance races in the United States (and would remain so until 1971). But it was a bona fide race, affirmed by fast times, prizes awarded to winners and photographs blurred by the speedy women. The Dipsea Women’s Hike was likely the longest cross country race exclusively for women ever held in this country, and retained that distinction for decades.

This Saturday, hundreds of women, many in period costume, will trek from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach to commemorate the exact centennial of that historic day.

San Francisco’s Olympic Club founded the Dipsea Race in 1905, from the Mill Valley train depot to the new Dipsea Inn at Stinson Beach (then called Willow Camp). It continues as the oldest major cross-country race in the nation.

A dozen years later, George James, another of the Olympic Club members known as the Dipsea Indians, floated the idea for a similar race, for women. He had already organized a Golden Gate Swim for women. James wrote, “When I suggested the Cross County Hike I met with considerable opposition — but from my own observation, I believe that a woman, equally trained, and in the same physical condition as a man, is more game, more tenacious, and has greater endurance.”

It was an astonishing leap, a full decade before women were allowed to run at all in the Olympic Games. Until 1960, the longest women’s track event was 200 meters. It was two years before the 19th Amendment—“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex”—was finally ratified.

The San Francisco Call newspaper was lead sponsor of the Hike and generated so much publicity that 171 women started, more than double the number of men in the previous (1917) Dipsea, only a handful from then sparsely populated Marin. Crowds estimated at 5,000, including the Olympic Club Orchestra, lined the course and finish, both then difficult to reach in pre-Panoramic Highway days.

Dipseath

The winner was Edith Hickman, a 19-year-old San Franciscan, in a time of one hour, 18 minutes, 48 seconds. Hickman’s daughter, Barbara Van Meurs of Ross, will be in Old Mill Park on Saturday as the official starter.

In 1919, the winner was Marion Mehl. The 1920 Hike had 619 entrants, a figure not surpassed in the Dipsea Race until 1968, and Priscilla Swearingen won in 1:14:44. At the finish, “she turned a handspring, her face wreathed in smiles.” In 1921, another City newspaper, the Bulletin, took over sponsorship and renamed the race as the “Dipsea Trail Hike for Girls.” Mill Valley native Emma Reiman, runner-up the previous two years, was now first. She won again in 1922 with a time, 1:12:06, not surpassed by any other woman until 1969. In 1993, Reiman was named one of five charter members of the Dipsea Race Hall of Fame.

But George James died in 1922, and so too did the Women’s Hike. Without James’s advocacy, the Hike succumbed to church group objections about women gamboling about in “immodest attire” on the Sabbath and a commonly held belief that such strenuous exertion was harmful to a woman’s reproductive system. A handful of women ran the Dipsea unofficially in the 1950s and ‘60s before the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) finally overturned its ban on women in distance races in 1971.

Women have now won the Dipsea Race outright 22 times. In 1972, Title IX was passed, expanding women’s opportunities in collegiate sports. A woman’s marathon was added to the Olympic Games in 1984, the 10,000 meters in ‘88.

In 1993, this writer organized a 75th anniversary commemoration of the first Women’s Hike. Two Hike survivors, Marie Krauter (93) and Laura Vezzani Stratta (88), came to the start. Laura’s sister Helen Signorio lived to age 107, becoming the last living Hiker.

The Dipsea Race Committee is lead organizer of this weekend’s Centennial celebration, with enthusiastic support from the National Park Service, One Tam, the City of Mill Valley and others.

“For me,” says Chris Knez, a Dipsea Committee member, “the most exciting part of organizing this event is helping the current generations of grandmothers, mothers, and daughters connect with the history of the Dipsea.”

A group of runners take off from the starting line of the 103rd running of the 7.5-mile Dipsea Race footrace in Mill Valley, Calif. on Sun. June 9, 2013. (Special to Marin Independent Journal/Douglas Zimmerman)

A group of runners take off from the starting line of the 103rd running of the 7.5-mile Dipsea Race footrace in Mill Valley, Calif. on Sun. June 9, 2013. (Special to Marin Independent Journal/Douglas Zimmerman)

All 500 available spots for the noncompetitive and untimed Hike filled within days, as did the post-Hike lunch in Stinson Beach. Proceeds go to Zero Breast Cancer Marin and to the much-needed Dipsea Trail bridge over Redwood Creek in Muir Woods. Entrants receive a t-shirt with Emma Reiman’s image and a bandana, and will wear hand-inked, cotton bib numbers, as in 1918.

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Posted by Teri Perticone

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