Friday, March 16, 2012

Before Girls Could Play

March 16 - Today's post provided by Karen Blumenthal

 Before Girls Could Play

Forty years ago, a small band of women and men in Congress took part in a revolution. But they didn’t know it at the time.

Gymsuits in Texas circa 1970s
The political world and women activists were abuzz with efforts to pass a radical Constitutional amendment known as the Equal Rights Amendment that would end sex discrimination in America forever.  In 1972, Congress sent the amendment to the states, needing 38 to ratify it.

At practically the same time, a determined veteran Representative from Oregon, Edith Green, had a much smaller goal. She set out to end sex discrimination in schools and universities by sneaking a tiny amendment into a giant education bill that created new financial scholarships and addressed issues around racial inequality in schools. The little amendment became known by its section in the bill, Title IX, and won support from other women, like Patsy Mink of Hawaii and Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug of New York, and men like Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana.

Edith Green
After a long, bitter and hard-fought battle, the ERA fell three states short of approval by the early 1980s deadline Congress had set. By then, Edith Green’s little amendment was causing quite a ruckus.

Title IX had quickly put an end to quotas that were keeping women out of medical and law schools. But something completely unexpected also was taking place: From coast to coast, high schools and colleges that had long had well-funded sports teams for the guys now had to create sports teams for girls and women where they had been few or none. The gals were finally getting a chance to play.
It was a battle every step of the way. Female teams had to beg for space to practice and for uniforms and equipment. Coaches had to fight for fair pay.  Skirmishes regularly broke out in Congress and the courts over efforts to water down the rules.

Still, within a generation, the impact of Title IX was nothing less than spectacular. By the early 1990s, women’s participation in college sports had tripled; six times as many girls were playing high school sports as had played in 1972. At the 1996 Olympics, the “Title IX” babies—athletes born around the early 1970s—took center stage, winning gold in gymnastics, soccer, synchronized swimming, basketball and softball.

Edith Green’s little amendment had become the most significant civil rights law for girls and women since women won the right to vote in 1920.

About a decade ago, I set out to chronicle this revolution, wanting to share this little slice of women’s history with teens who had no idea how different the world had been in their mom’s lifetime. In interviews, memories were faulty—the Title IX battles ran together with so many others over women’s issues. Every detail had to be carefully double-checked.

I cared deeply about this story but I didn’t know if anyone else would. Yet every year since LET ME PLAY: The Story of Title IX was published in 2005, I get more calls and emails from young women who are fascinated and moved by the work of the women who went before them. The book remains the only real history of how this little law made such a big impact.

Yet, for all the success, Title IX’s gains still seem fragile, especially in a year when core women’s issues have faced steady political attacks.

On June 23, 2002, Title IX’s thirtieth anniversary, Rep. Patsy Mink, a long-time Title IX supporter and advocate, told Congress, “While it is wonderful that equity has become the expected norm, we must also teach each new generation that there was a time when Title IX did not exist. Further, we all need to be reminded that since Title IX was put in place by legislative body, it can always be taken away by a legislative body. We need to be vigilant. Title IX must be protected and defended to ensure that equal educational opportunities for girls and women are preserved for all generations to come.”

Three months later, she passed away. To recognize her dedication and commitment to the cause, Title IX was renamed the Patsy Takemoto Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.

On June 23 of this year, Title IX will reach another major milestone, its fortieth anniversary of creating opportunities for women in academic fields and on athletic fields that once were closed to them. Though many of them are no longer with us, the bravery, commitment and perseverance of Edith Green and Patsy Mink and the men and women who fought with them still reverberate with every kick of the ball and swing of the bat.

Editor's Note:
Karen Blumenthal is a Dallas journalist and the author five nonfiction books for young people. Her latest books is Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different.


  1. Karen, Thanks so much for this post. As I mentioned to you, Title IX means a great deal to me. In fact, I may be the only mom in history who complains to her son's school whenever his soccer or baseball team gets the "good field" all the time! As you say, let the girls play! And in answer to your question, my name was not embroidered on my gymsuit, but I did have one those tacky iron-on labels on the pocket! (it was required attire) Too funny! Lisa

  2. Thanks for a fascinating post! I was astonished by the statistics, even though I had a vague notion of the increase. I grew up when there were no organized sports for girls--at least I didn't know anyone who participated in anything except maybe ice skating or gymnastics. It's inspirational to consider how dramatically things have changed for girls in sports in one generation.

  3. Karen: I hope the increased reflections on Title IX in this 40th anniversary year will empower those women (and men) who find themselves fighting for women's rights today. Patsy Mink was so right that vigilance is necessary, as anyone who's been following the absurd rhetoric being bandied about today can attest. Thanks for a great post.

  4. Ack, this brings back memories. I remember knocking on doors in my dorm asking others for support of the ERA. This was hard for me since I was very shy--and I cringed when some (many, sadly) young women looked at me as if I'd grown a new head when I asked for their support for the amendment. Even so, I barely knew the impact of Title IX. This post has opened my eyes--thank you!

  5. It's so great to learn the history behind Title 9 and what it took to get it passed!

  6. Great post. And I remember being on the first girl's basketball team in my high school after it passed. However, I never much thought about what took place "behind the scenes" in order to make that happen.

  7. Great post. Definitely sheds some light on the subject.

  8. Can you tell me where you found the photo of Edith Green? I would love to use it in a research project I am working on!