Vera Searle (nee Palmer) OBE 1901-1998  

Athlete, world record breaker, WAAA Hon. Secretary, Chairman and President

Vera Seale was a force to be reckoned with. A world class sprinter in the 1920s, she was instrumental in the WAAA and the promotion of women’s athletics for eight decades. 

In 1923, aged 22, she entered 100yds at the J Lyons and Co Gala at Sudbury in borrowed spikes, unaware that the race was a trial for the English Championships. She finished fourth. At the first WAAA English Championships that year she finished third in the 220yds and was selected to compete at the 250m in a match against France later that year. She not only won the 250m in Paris but set a world record time, with 35.4 seconds.

In 1924 at the English Championships Vera won the 220yds and broke the 440yds world record with a time of 63 seconds. She came second to Eileen Edwards in the 220yds at the Women’s World Games in Gothenburg in 1926.

Vera Palmer (later Searle) winning the 1925 WAAA 440yds

Vera retired from racing in 1926. She married Wilfred Searle and became a mother, however her involvement in athletics continued. Having been a founding member of Middlesex Ladies Athletics Club in 1923 Vera served as WAAA Hon. Secretary from 1927 – 1931. She helped to form the Southern Counties WAAA and was an early member of the Spartan Harriers Ladies AC which was founded in 1930. After the Second World War she helped revive Middlesex Ladies AC and became chair of the National Women’s Cross County Association in 1950.

After her husband Wilfred’s death in 1956 Searle moved to Kent and was involved with Tonbridge AC. From 1973 – 1981 she was Chairman of the WAAA, and upon stepping down from this role was unanimously voted its president, a position she held from 1981 until the cessation of the WAAA and the integration of the WAAA and AAA into the AAA of England.  Vera’s involvement with the WAAA spanned almost its entire existence, from its inception in 1922 to its end in 1991. Over those years she saw a monumental shift in attitudes towards women’s athletics. She always remembered the attitudes of the early years, when men’s athletics wanted nothing to do with women’s athletics and remained resolutely committed to women’s athletics throughout.

Searle was awarded an OBE in 1979 for services to Athletics.