Where are you now, Lillian Greene-Chamberlain
Feb. 6, 2012
By John Hirn
It was the summer of 1959 and Lillian Greene had won the gold medal in the 400-meter competition at the Pan American games in Chicago’s Soldier Field. Rocky Mountain AAU Chairperson and US official Joan Kemp asked Greene if she would be interested in coming to Colorado State University and help form the first intercollegiate women’s track team in the school’s history. Greene’s determination in track and field, along with an outstanding academic record caught Kemp’s attention while at the international games and she knew CSU wanted to expand its women’s athletics program.
Lillian Greene grew up in New York City and following high school enrolled at Hunter College in New York. She won a US All-American award in 1958 and turned many heads in US women’s middle distance running before she headed out west to Fort Collins. Greene toured behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe during the summer of 1958 visiting Moscow, Warsaw and Budapest to become the first African American US woman to compete internationally.
When Lillian Greene arrived on the CSU campus in September of 1960, she and three other women (Ann Flynn, Ann Roniger and Rose Melanchuk) became the first women’s track and field team in school history. Although women first played intercollegiate basketball from 1899 to 1908, women’s athletics at CSU were primarily intramural rather than intercollegiate. That all changed in 1959 when long-time women’s athletic director Elizabeth Forbes retired and Irmel Fagan took over as director with ideas to expand women’s athletics.
Led by physical education instructor and Coach Virginia Frank, Greene and her teammates charted new waters in the advancement of athletics at CSU. Lillian Greene moved into Green Hall where she also worked in the dorm’s cafeteria to earn money for her education. There were no scholarships for women athletes and Greene made the trek out west knowing she had to pay for her college education.
Lillian Greene-Chamberlain remembered over 50 years later what it was like to pioneer track at CSU. “Ms. Virginia Frank was my Physical Education Professor, Coach and mentor. When I look back at the people who offered me assistance and encouragement while at CSU, I think that it is important to recognize and acknowledge their efforts, struggles, and achievements as early pioneers who led the way towards establishing the Women’s Track and Field team at CSU in the early 1960s. Ms. Frank was a strong leader who was at the forefront in the quest for recognition and support of the CSU Women’s Track and Field Program. She was also a visionary who always stressed excellence, discipline, and accountability. I will always have great respect for Professor Frank who always challenged me to reach higher.”
During that first year of the track team Ann Flynn, a high jumper from New Jersey that had competed in the 1956 Olympics and 1959 Pan American Games, dropped out at CSU. Greene, who was also the first African American woman to compete in intercollegiate athletics at CSU, recruited Joan Brown of Denver to take Flynn’s place. Brown and Greene not only charted history as members of the first women’s track team, but also broke ground as the first African American female athletes in state history. By the spring of 1961, CSU had a women’s track team that was 50% African American.
Lillian Greene wasted no time continuing her athletic career and racking up awards while at CSU. In 1961 the track team competed in Rocky Mountain AAU championships along with the women’s indoor and outdoor national championships. Greene won the Rocky Mountain championship in the 440 and 880 and then set a world record in the 440 indoor competition at the national championships. She won her third All-American award in four years after her record-breaking achievements in 1961.
In 1962, Lillian was placed on the Dean’s list and also earned the first athletic scholarship for a female athlete in school history. The Lillian Greene Scholarship Fund was established with help from the Denver Post, a collection of sororities and individual donors.
Looking back, Lillian thought of what it was like at CSU when there were no facilities for women and little support. “When I came to CSU there were only two colleges in the United States that offered track and field scholarships to females: Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and Tennessee State University in Nashville. At that time, there was no such concept as “Gender Equity”, no Women’s Sports Foundation, no one celebrated National Girls and Women in Sports Day, no Amateur Sports Act, and Title IX did not exist. Due to the tireless efforts of Ms. Fagan, Director of CSU’s Women’s Physical Education Department, Professor Virginia Frank, and Ms. Joan Kemp, CSU’s Track and Field Program was able to overcome any initial hurdles and evolve into a successful program.”
After she graduated in 1963 with a degree in physical education, Lillian Greene earned masters and doctoral degrees from Fordham University in New York City. She married John Chamberlain and began a 40-year career serving her community and nation in various educational, health, sports and fitness programs.
Lillian Greene-Chamberlain broke down more barriers in the mid-1970s when she became the only woman and American to serve as Director of the Physical Education and Sports Program for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris, France. Serving for ten years with UNESCO, Greene-Chamberlain also was the only woman to serve on the Board of Trustees of the American University in Paris from 1979 to 1989. She also delivered the Prince Phillip Fellows Lecture in the House of Lords in London, England in 1982 become the first woman to do so.
In 1993, CSU inducted Lillian-Greene Chamberlain into the CSU Athletic Hall of Fame and more than 30 years after graduation she was presented with a CSU letter jacket in 1994 by then track Coach Doug Max.
Since then Greene-Chamberlain has served on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, was a trustee of the Women’s Sports Foundation from 1993 to 1999 and has annually served as the official announcer of the Colgate Women’s Games held in New York’s Madison Square Garden since 1989.
Lillian Greene-Chamberlain now resides in Silver Spring, Maryland and remains active in serving her community, state and nation. Greene-Chamberlain reflected on sports and how they prepared her for life saying, “Participating in sports gave me confidence, self-esteem and a sense of empowerment that I could be successful in anything that I attempted, through strategic thinking, realistic goal-setting, hard work, persistence and courage. It prepared me for the serious competition of life, and I used the lessons that I learned as tools to succeed in progressing from the class room, to the locker room, to the board room.
Through the years, I have taken the same qualities of discipline, determination, commitment, courage, desire, achievement, fair play, mastery, and confidence that I perfected as an athlete, and applied them to my personal development in life’s management.”