What Can Julia Chase-Brand Can Teach Us About Being a Strong, Smart Woman?

It has been said that:

Strong is the new Beautiful and Smart is the new Sexy.

I believe that’s as it should be. Women took a backseat to men for eons in the realm of attribute recognition. That’s not the case anymore. The world abounds with strong, smart, beautiful and sexy women who don’t let their personal struggles stop them from achieving anything and everything they want.

We hear stories almost daily about a woman who has done something extraordinary.

My series on Strong, Smart, Sexy, From the Heart Women, will highlight many of those women, whether they be, athletes, writers, performance artists, scientists, teachers or from any other group of SSS (strong, smart, sexy)women. I will also feature women of your peer group, maybe even YOU, to show what it means to be SSS.

The story of Julia Chase-Brand

Prior to 1961, women didn’t run. It was a man’s sport. One of my neighborhood friends loved to run.  She was

Julia Chase-Brand 1961Julia Chase- Brand 1961, Manchester

14 and she was fast; faster than the boys. The decision of whether or not she could compete in a race had already been decided for her.

Until…

Julia Chase Brand discovered her passion. As a young girl, Julia ran…all the time. She grew up in Groton, CT and joyfully ran through the woods and along the pond of her grandmother’s 8-acre farm. She played with the woodland animals, she rowed in the pond, and she played football, hockey and baseball with her four brothers.

Do you remember the exuberant feeling of running and leaping into the air, feeling almost as if you could take off and fly? That’s what made Julia feel alive and most like herself.

As a teen, Julia would ride to Mass with her Dad. Along the way, they would see a slender man doing his early morning runs on a  golf course. He was John J. Kelley, a schoolteacher who was training to run the 1957 Boston Marathon. He took first place  in that race and went on to win eight national marathon titles and entry into the 1956 and 1960 Summer Olympics.

Julia was intrigued and followed him whenever he ran despite the golf course manager trying to shoo her away. George Terry, Kelley’s running partner, eventually became Julia’s coach and says, ““Her desire to run seemed insatiable…I think Julia was born running.”

Julia trained hard for a month, even though her father tried to sway her to play tennis instead. In July, 1960,  a fresh-faced 17-year old high school graduate, Julia entered and won the New England championship in the 880-yard run. In order to be allowed to participate, she listed her hometown as Westerly, R.I. Connecticut women were not allowed.

Julia placed well in the Olympic track trials but did not qualify. However, she did knock 10 seconds of her personal best and ran with Wilma Rudolph, who became known as the fastest woman in the world. She was powered up and considered this a success.

September, 1960 brought a new school year, this time at Smith College. She showed up for the Manchester race but was not allowed entry. There were few opportunities for women to run. She decided to make a stand.

Per NY Times, “in 1961, she filed a formal application and, beforehand, unofficially entered a six-and-a-half-mile race in Chicopee, Mass., where she finished 34th and defeated eight men. She also let it be known that she planned to defy the A.A.U. ban on women in Manchester. The news media took up the cause of this 19-year-old sophomore, although in a manner that was as paternalistic as it was supportive. In the accompanying articles, there was an attempt to suggest that Chase-Brand could run and still be considered feminine. Reporters noted that she was smart, pretty and funny. “

While the men she competed with supported her, the headlines told a different story: “Coed Just Likes to Run, Yet Burley Males Object”. She experienced cruel remarks and serious conflict: “Women don’t run. You run. What are you?” She didn’t understand the problem since women in other countries were allowed to compete.

Julia says, “I ran an indoor track meet in Boston in 1962. At the meet, one of the top women’s AAU officials came up to me. She said to me, ‘You shouldn’t run distance races. See Sally down there? She used to be so pretty.”

On Nov. 23, 1961, Chase-Brand arrived at Manchester ready to run. She didn’t try to hide her femininity to run with the men. And she wasn’t alone. Two other young women were there to compete as well. The officials asked her to leave. She refused.

Of herself and the two other women, Julia said, ““Chris (McKenzie) was the mother of a toddler,” Chase-Brand said. “Dianne (Lechausse) was a high school student who was a dancer; she was wearing a gym suit with bloomers. If you were trying to beat a stereotype, you couldn’t have cast it better.”

Chase-Brand finished the race in 33:40 minutes and beat 10 of the 138 men in the field. That was a landmark moment in the evolution of women’s running in this country, stated Amby Burfoot, a 1968 Boston Marathon winner.

Julia made a promise not to crash anymore men’s competitions and instead went on to finish college, grad school and got her doctorate in Biology, married and taught at Rutgers and Barnard College for years. From there she conducted research on bats while living in Trinidad, Panama and then Australia. She proved that bats  navigate not only with sonar but also with vision. She also studied humans, orangutans and gorillas social behaviors.

Julia Chase-Brand 2011

Julia Chase-Brand 2011, Manchester

But, Julia wasn’t done yet. At the age of 53, she “became the oldest person to receive a medical degree at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in the Bronx” earning her degree in psychiatry.

Since then, Julia continues to stay fit swimming running, biking and working out in the gym. She had been running races until 2006. Then in November, 2011, Julia entered  the Manchester race to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her first run in that race. I was unable to find information on how she placed in that race, but I do know she finished. She said then she intended to hang up her sneakers.

So, what can she teach us?

  • Find your passion
  • Kick obstacles out of your way
  • Know yourself and what you can do
  • Work hard; respect follows
  • It’s probable you’ll find more than one passion in life
  • Age and gender are not obstacles and don’t have to stop you from reaching your dreams
  • Live fully, keep learning, stay fit

What do you think of Julia Chase-Brand? What did you take away from her story?

You know I love hearing from you! Come on, tell me what you think!

Don’t forget – this Friday is The Life List Club. The fabulous Jenny Hansen from More Cowbell will be guest posting right here! I’ll be over at Lara Schiffbauer’s place offering up my tips for financial freedom.

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18 thoughts on “What Can Julia Chase-Brand Can Teach Us About Being a Strong, Smart Woman?

  1. Pingback: Happy Birthday to ME! – Natalie Hartford

  2. This story reminds me of when I was little reading my American Girl magazine and learning about Flo Johnson. You always find the most remarkable stories. I shared the story of Diana Nyad with my library’s book discussion when we reviewed Grayson by Lynne Cox. Julia is another fascinating story to share.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it enough to share it. Diana Nyad is someone i will always follow–she gets knocked down and keeps getting right back up. Julia was equally persevering in her youth when the door to running was continually shut in her face.
      I’m not familiar with Flo Johnson–will have to look her up. Thanks, Jess.

  3. It’s hard to believe this was so recent. Our daughters won’t know what this was like (well, to an extent since there is still an imbalance of the sexes).

    This is a fabulous series you’re starting, Marcia. I look forward to reading about more strong and sexy women.

    • Any of us in our 40’s, 50’s and older saw so much change in our lifetimes that our kids won’t experience. There are a lot of great lessons to learn and people to admire from the past. Thank, Tameri. I’m glad you’re enjoying it!

    • @Kate – She’s pretty amazing! I’m you like the series! Thanks!

      @Lara – Yes, she’s one strong-minded woman. She’s done a lot of good in the world in her 70 years. Thanks.

  4. To all of you, thank you for coming by and I’m happy you all reading about Julia and were inspired by her story. Every one of you also inspire and lead in your own ways. You, women, are all very special and admirable. David, you are one of the best men I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. The respect, love and consideration you have for women is a rare thing today.
    I’m thrilled to be associated with all of you!

I love it when you tell me what you think!

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