Fifty years ago this past week (June 23, 1972), Title IX of the Education Amendment was enacted by Congress. It was Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana who authored the wording in the bill:
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
Women’s rights advocates were already marching and protesting the slow plodding of Equal Rights Amendment legislation. In a strategic move to avoid sparking public debate and further protest, the bipartisan committee asked women’s groups to not call attention to Title IX to let the senators do the work. As a result, the bill was passed without much fanfare.
Despite the fact that women had proven themselves more than capable of physical labor during World War II, decades of social mores dictated that sports were “unlady-like” and women should not be permitted to exert themselves in public. In fact, in some circles, it was thought that if women performed sports that required much physical activity, especially during menstruation cycles, they would be putting themselves in hazardous health situations! Still, the first women’s professional baseball league was formed during World War II, but it was dissolved in 1954. In the boomer era, attitudes were changing and feminist activism was calling for all types of equality for women, including in sports. Women could finally play in their own national championships in gymnastics and track and field in 1969; swimming, badminton, volleyball, and lastly, basketball, were added before Title IX became law.
Despite exceptions for certain sports at select schools, prior to this bill, girls and women had few opportunities to participate in organized sports at schools and universities. Schools, from elementary to high school and on to colleges and universities, had little, if any, budget for girls’ sports. According to Forbes, the year before the passage of Title IX (1971), universities dedicated just one percent of their athletic budgets to women’s sports. Title IX required them to match the funding of what was available to boys. Reports indicate just 15 percent of college women participated in sports in 1972, prior to the bill’s passage. Many universities did not sponsor a women’s basketball team at all before Title IX.
Coaching was another example of disparities based on sex in sports before Title IX. Reports indicate 90% of coaches for the women’s sports that did exist were male. It would be another 20 years before women made a significant mark in the coaching of women’s sports, but to this day, women still coach less than half of the women’s sports teams. Teachers and coaches recall that in that era, locker rooms were also a point of contention, as many venues built only male locker rooms. Since there were few women’s sports, there was (in their eyes), not a need for female locker rooms. Demand for equal locker room facilities were an ongoing project that would take another 20 years.
What sports were offered to women, prior to Title IX? Mister Boomer recalls that in his elementary school, there was no gym, and no organized sports. The local high school did have boys’ baseball, football and basketball teams, in addition to track and field and swimming. Girls could swim or join track and field.
It was President Eisenhower who first established the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. With memories of World War II readiness still in his mind, he became concerned that Americans would grow complacent and less physically fit in the boom-time after the War. Nonetheless, for various reasons, no programs of note were able to get off the ground during his presidency. President Kennedy “picked up the ball” and attempted to address the physical fitness of students. However, there was not a direct correlation drawn between physical fitness and sports, so the program — which concentrated mostly on exercise — had a moderate effect on health, but did not disrupt the status quo of the disparities between boys’ and girls’ sports.
What do you recall about the sports opportunities that were available to you, boomers?