By the late 1870s, more women than ever before were taking part in the then-popular pedestrian races in the United States. Several of the women participating in the sport achieved widespread fame and impressive records, but it was Amy Howard of Brooklyn, New York, who stood out as the era’s foremost and undisputed female walking champion.
Howard’s breakthrough event occurred in December 1879 at what was only the second major female six-day walking competition. The competition was held at Madison Square Garden in New York City and, as with male six-day matches, the women’s version was a go-as-you-please event in which participants could walk, run, and rest whenever they desired; scorekeepers kept count of the number of miles logged in by each person around the track. At the end of the six days, Howard – only 17 years old at the time and comparatively new to the sport – easily finished first with a record-setting 393 miles.
Howard went on to an even greater accomplishment in May 1880 when she participated in a female six-day walking competition at the Mechanics’ Pavilion in San Francisco. She won that tough match with a total of 409 miles. Howard’s victory in San Francisco cemented her nationwide reputation as a fierce and formidable competitor in walking competitions. “Since 1878, I have been on the track over half the time and have been in every kind of pedestrian match, from a half-hour run to a 14-day walk,” Howard said in an 1880 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “I have won every one I entered in, either against men or women.”
Howard took part in what would be her final walking competition in June 1884, finishing first with 340 miles in a match at Kernan’s Monumental Theater in Baltimore. She then took a break from the sport so that she could perform in comic skits on stage throughout the northeastern U.S. with her husband Frank and sister Alice. Sadly, Howard died in childbirth in October 1885 at the age of 23. Her legacy as a world-class pedestrienne lives on, however, and the 409-mile walking record for women that she achieved in San Francisco remained unbroken for more than a century.