No more overlooked: Violet Piercy, Pioneering Marathoner

This article is part of The Unseen, a series of tributes about notable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, were not reported in The Times.

One Saturday in March 1935, Violet Piercy left her home in Clapham, south-west London, and moved across the Thames and to Highgate, a neighborhood in the north of the city.

From there, in a publicity stunt of the 1920s and ’30s, he began running, more than five miles to the monument in the center of the city, a 202-foot-tall pillar marking the spot where London’s The Great Fire was believed to have started in 1666. She climbed 311 steps upstairs. It took him 43 minutes 2 seconds.

At some points along the way, the police had difficulty holding back crowds of onlookers eager to catch a glimpse of this “female athlete” who was written about in the newspapers. The prevailing belief at the time was that women were too fragile to walk more than a few hundred feet.

“I did this to show that women are as capable as men to accomplish feats of stamina,” Piercy, 45, later told London newspaper The Evening Standard.

The race established her as one of the first known female endurance runners in Britain. It is believed that he completed the marathon distance of 26.2 miles twice – once on his own and once in an organized race that gave him an edge over the men.

Jaime Schultz said that her exploits were all the more remarkable because she was one of the few women who dared to challenge the standard medical advice for women of that era, who as a professor in the Department of Kinesiology as a professor of women’s distance. Researched history. at Penn State University.

Schultz said in an interview that women were told that any “violent exercise” such as running would disrupt their menstrual cycles and could even displace their uterus, jeopardizing their fertility. can.

Athletics organizations in Britain in the 1920s banned women from running longer than 1,000 meters; In the United States, women were not even allowed to compete over such long distances.

During the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, women were given a chance to prove themselves in the 800 meters competition, but some reports exaggerated the results, stating that some runners fell after the race. were, substantiating the statement that women were too weak to compete. It would be another 32 years before women were allowed to compete in the 800 meters at the Games again. And it would take until 1984 for the women’s marathon to become an Olympic event.

Violet Stewart Louisa Piercy (whose surname was sometimes spelled Piercy in newspapers) was born in Croydon, about 10 miles south of London, on December 24, 1889. He was educated at the private Old Palace of the John Whitgift School.

Her father, George Piercy, a prosperous estate owner, died two weeks after she was born. A brother died when he was 8 years old, which may have contributed to the poor mental health of his mother, Louisa Sophia Piercy. Newspaper articles from the time described her acting oddly towards her neighbors, including pretending to be a ghost who haunted the street.

Little is known about how or why Piercy started running. She joined several athletic clubs but did not get the opportunity to run long distances with them.

But when she started running she was happy to be in the limelight. His first campaign event was in October 1926, when he ran the traditional London Marathon course from the city of Windsor to the capital city in 3 hours 40 minutes and 22 seconds. (This year’s London Marathon was on October 3.) Now researchers believe he inadvertently changed course and only ran a little over 20 miles.

Piercy achieved the feat after an American, Gertrude Adderley, became the first woman to swim the English Channel a few months earlier.

“I did it because I wanted to show Americans what we can do,” Piercy told The Westminster Gazette, “and to prove that English women are good at something.”

She tried to repeat the London Marathon race again in 1928, but retired after 20 miles due to extreme heat.

Piercy eventually completed two marathon runs in 1933 and 1936, in about 4 hours 25 minutes. She was told to rely on brown sugar and lemon juice to get through her training. London’s Sunday Mirror said the 1936 race was “to prove that a woman’s stamina equals that of a man’s.”

Meditation followed him throughout his career. He was interviewed on BBC radio and filmed for newsreels, where he can be seen jumping rope on a road or track or in training, wearing shorts, a white jersey, white socks and his unique black leather buckled boots. Is. In a scene from the short silent film, “Mary Had a Little Lamb” (1930), Piercy jogs with a sheep on a street in London.

Nevertheless, despite all her achievements, she did not escape criticism. In 1926, The Westminster Gazette wrote that “it is to be hoped that no other girl will be so foolish as to imitate her.”

Piercy’s personal life also came to the fore when Piercy sued a former employer for slander in 1932. He won the case, and was ordered to pay £200 (about $18,000 in today’s money).

Piercy faded from the public eye later in life, becoming a footnote in the history of women’s running, until Peter Lovesey, Andy Milroy and other researchers passionate about track and field began the 2012 London Olympic Games. Didn’t start coming closer. He drafted an entry for him in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Piercy moved frequently after World War II. She is believed to have fallen on hard times by 1957. Records show someone whose name is in her name lives at a shelter for women who might otherwise be homeless.

A death certificate dated April 11, 1972 for a woman with no fixed address “Violet Pearson, otherwise known as Violet Piercy, otherwise Violet Pearce”. He died of a brain hemorrhage at the University College Hospital in London. Although the document stated her age as around 70, she must have been 83 years old.

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