Emma Sharp was a pedestrian, which in 19th century life was the term for an athlete competing in pedestrianism, one of the most popular sports in the western world at the time.
Pedestrians would walk around a track, some to accomplish a specific distance goal, others in competition with one another to see who could go the farthest distance over a specified time. Thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of spectators would come out to watch.
In September of 1864, Emma took on a challenge to walk 1,000 miles in 1,000 hours.
Dressed in a “’red and black checked coat and inexpressibles’ – the latter being used to describe the scandalous wearing of trousers by a woman,” she walked around a 120 yard track in Laisterdyke, England for 30 minutes, then would take a 90 minute break at the nearby Quarry Gap Hotel.
Some cheered for her success. Some did not. Betting on pedestrians was popular, so many had money at stake. Some even “threw burning embers in her path, some tried to drug her food, and still others simply resorted to trying to trip her at random times. As things escalated, for her protection, eighteen police officers disguised as working citizens were assigned to her on the final days of the race. In addition to that, during the night, a helpful citizen walked in front of her with a loaded rifle. Emma also walked the final two days with a pistol, which she had to fire in warning a reported 27 times in total to ward off unruly spectators.”
But on October 29, 1864, in front of 25,000 spectators, Emma finished her walk. She completed the 1,000 miles in 1,000 hours over six weeks.
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“Emma Sharp walks 1,000 miles in 1,000 hours” sources: Photograph taken in 1864 – Wikimedia Commons / Forgotten History: “The Story of Emma Sharp and the Barclay Challenge.” Today I Found Out. / “Long walk to put women on the map.” Telegraph & Argus.