On June 23, 1972, President Richard Nixon signed into law Title IX of the Education Amendments Act, which stated that “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.”
It was a landmark piece of legislation that gave voice to and sought to eliminate a discrimination against women that had existed in America’s higher education system for centuries
The climate on campus for women was repressive before the passage of the act. Young women were still were not admitted into many colleges and universities – Dartmouth, male-only since the 18th century, did not admit women until 1972, the year of the passage of Title IX – more than a coincidence. Athletic scholarships were rare; girls were expected to cheer for the men instead of play sports themselves. Girls were encouraged to pursue college to become teachers and nurses, but not doctors or principals. Women professors rarely were awarded tenure, particularly in math and the sciences, and even more rarely appointed college presidents.
Title IX had its roots in the personal life-experiences of the act’s co-authors, Rep. Patsy Takemoto Mink (D-Hawaii) — the first minority woman in Congress — and Rep. Edith Starrett Green (D-Oregon). Being female prevented Mink from playing full court basketball in high school as it was deemed “too strenuous for girls.” She received bachelor’s degrees in zoology and chemistry from the University of Hawaii, preparing for a career in medicine, however, in 1948, none of the twenty medical schools to which she applied would accept a woman. A disappointed Mink decided the best way to change gender inequity in America would be through the judicial process. Deciding to become a lawyer instead, she applied to the University of Chicago Law School, which, uncommonly, had admitted women from its inception in 1902. Later, despite her law degree from a prestigious institution, she was turned down by a Honolulu law firm specifically, she was told, because she was a woman.
Green, a long-time advocate for women’s issues — in 1955, she proposed in Congress the pioneering Equal Pay Act, which ensured that men and women received equal pay for equal work — chaired the Subcommittee on Higher Education of the Education and Labor Committee in 1972. Asked about the need for Title IX, Green remarked, “Let us not deceive ourselves. Our educational institutions have proven to be no bastions of democracy.”
Although Title IX applied to a variety of programs, it received the most attention for its impact on athletics. Contrary to popular belief, it did not require that women’s athletics receive the same amount of money as men’s athletics; it was designed to ensure equal access to and quality of athletic resources on campus. Where men’s programs invested enormous amounts of time and money in locker rooms, medical treatment, training, coaching, equipment, practice facilities and much more for men’s sports, higher educational institutions were now beholden to provide women athletes with the same quality of resources – not the same levels of dollar amounts, but the same commitment to providing women athletes with adequate resources – and opportunities.
Members of the media and Congress complained that, while sports such as football and basketball generated significant income for colleges and universities, women’s sports did not, and therefore such big-ticket men’s sports should be exempt from any Title IX’s considerations – in particular, access to athletic scholarships. An amendment to the act was introduced in Congress in 1974 to exclude income-generating sports from Title IX coverage; it was rejected. Like-minded amendments appeared in 1975 and 1977, both of which also failed.
Opponents of Title IX achieved a short-lived victory in 1984 as a result of the lawsuit Grove City v. Bell; the court’s decision was that Title IX affected only those programs that directly received federal assistance. The ruling eliminated the clause’s applicability to athletics programs. In 1988, however, the Civil Rights Restoration Act overrode Grove City v. Bell, stating that Title IX applied to all programs and activities of any educational institution receiving federal financial assistance.
Today, thanks to Title IX, women’s sports flourish on campuses nationwide, delivering all the benefits to women that intercollegiate sports have long brought to men – discipline, commitment, courage, leadership, teamwork – energizing campus life and instilling a nationwide pride in the achievements of all student athletes.
In 2002, following her death, Representative Patsy Mink was honored posthumously for her efforts in breaking down barriers for women; Title IX was renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.