Back Through Time:
First Female Gold Medalist Comes Home
Chicago Tribune - September 27, 1992
by Martin Zabell
Riverdale raced back through time in more ways than one
First, the southwest suburb celebrated its centennial with a picnic at
Riverdale Park, 137th Street and Wentworth Avenue. Then, the village honored a former
resident who brought it worldwide attention 1928.
Betty Robinson Schwartz, 80, mad history in Amsterdam when she became the
first American woman ever to win an Olympic gold medal and the first woman in the world to
win an Olympic medal in track and field. The "fastest woman in the world"
triumphed in the 100-meter run while she was a 16-year-old student living in Riverdale and
attending Thornton Township High in Harvey.
In 1931, Schwartz suffered a broken leg in an airplane accident, but she
battled back to win a gold medal in the women's 400-meter relay at the 1936 Olympics in
Berlin. She moved to Chicago after getting married in 1939 and just recently moved from
Chicago to Orlando.
About 100 people, including many of her childhood friends, were on hand when
she came back to Riverdale last weekend. The Olympic anthem was played as she became the
first person to receive a commemorative plaque from Riverdale. She choked back tears while
she expressed her gratitude to her birthplace.
"I'll always be thankful I was born a runner," she said as she
related how she entered official competitions after Thornton Township High's track coach
saw her running after a train and invited her out for the girls' team.
"She'd beat all the guys," said Tom Kinney, 79, who raced her on
the playgrounds as a child. "Nobody could catch her."
Ed Kipley Sr., former mayor of Riverdale and the father of current Mayor Ed
Jr., remembers training with her in 1928, when they were both high school athletes.
"She was beautiful, friendly, and very competitive," he said.
"Some of the neighbors though she was a tomboy, but nobody ever said that to her
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October 3, 2000
Updated: December 19, 2013
Information provided by the
Riverdale Historical Society