All born between 1911 and 1918, Elizabeth "Betty" Robinson, Babe Didrikson, Helen Stephens and Tidye Pickett were among the standout young women in their late teens and early 20s fighting to be accepted for their athletic skills in a man's world of sports.
Robinson was the first woman to win a gold medal in the inaugural track and field event (100 meters) for women held during the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. Pickett was the first African-American woman to represent the United States during the Olympic Games, in 1936 in Berlin.
"They were fighting the good fight almost 100 years ago," said Roseanne Montillo, author of "Fire on the Track: Betty Robinson and the Triumph of the Early Olympic Women."
"These women accomplished something. They were women very up to par with the men and didn't stand back."
They were dealing with their sexuality, weight, cliques, bullies, racism and poverty, Montillo said.
"Anything high school students deal with today, they dealt with it then. They did well, and overcame all those obstacles, including illness. Betty almost dies."
It was Robinson who first caught Montillo's eye while researching her third book, "The Wilderness of Ruin: A Tale of Madness, Fire, and the Hunt for America's Youngest Serial Killer," published in 2015. The same newspapers she was reading also covered the Olympic tryouts over the 1928 Fourth of July weekend in New Jersey. It was about the first women to participate in Olympic track and field trials to qualify for the Amsterdam Games.
Montillo's first four books were on the darker side of life, she said. They also included "The Lady and Her Monsters: A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley's Masterpiece," published in 2013, and "Halloween and Commemorations of the Dead" published in 2009.
"'Fire on the Track' is not dark," Montillo said. "It is very uplifting, a story of resilience and young people who made good. It goes against the books I've written before."
After writing so long about dark subjects, she thought maybe she was getting into a hole.
"I was actually looking for something with an inspirational bent. I was looking for newspapers in the early 1920s. I happened to chance up on an article about the first Olympic trials for young women in track and field. I thought this was inspirational. Nobody died.
"It was more fun. Something I wasn't accustomed to, like going back to high school - 17-year-old girls trying to do their best. Not to say there are not moments that were depressing because of the time, but it was interesting."
Montillo was always interested in writing. "I've been one of those children who always enjoyed a good story and good tale, so I studied writing and literature in college. It's a natural progression. A dream," she said, to be published. "Mostly I follow my own interests. Occasionally a story will find its way to me. Maybe I don't have enough knowledge on it, but I will research it."
She graduated from Emerson College and then became a professor there, teaching courses such as forbidden knowledge, and love and eroticism. The course on the intersection of literature and history led her to write "The Lady and Her Monsters." Everyone had to figure out what was history, literature, religion and science, and with that information, do you call "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" fiction or nonfiction?
Research for "Fire on the Track" took much of her time, so Montillo took a break from teaching. "I found a lot of information in archives, personal diaries, personal letters. There was some coverage from newspapers, as well, mostly related to the male side of eventsâ€¦ It took me a fair amount of time to get it all together."
In the end, even the reporters back then were writing that the women should stay at home where they belong, Montillo said. They wrote about how the women looked, not about their accomplishments.
"They did surprisingly well," Montillo said of her real-life characters, "even though people have never heard of them up until now. Be courageous. The glass ceiling can be broken. That's my motto, even when things seem insurmountable."
Book: "Fire on the Track: Betty Robinson and the Triumph of the Early Olympic Women"
When: 2:50 p.m. Feb. 17
Where: Lutheran Church Sanctuary, 120 Bull St., Wright Square