50th Anniversary of Title IX Series

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX, we started this series to speak to and learn more about some incredible women in the sports world. Scroll down to learn more!

Fifty years ago, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was signed into law, giving women a means for equal access to education for the first time in American history. Although the original intention was to equalize college admissions, the act set off a multi-decade explosion in women’s sports. According to a report by the Women’s Sports Foundation, 3 million more high school girls have opportunities to participate in sports now than they did before Title IX and 44% of all college athletes are women (versus 15% before Title IX).  

Title IX has helped reshape the lives of millions of women. The same benefits sports provided for men for decades finally helped a generation of women. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, girls and women who play sports have higher levels of confidence and self-esteem and lower levels of depression. 80% of the female executives at Fortune 500 companies say they played sports. The visibility of female athletes in professional leagues, international competitions, coaching and administrative positions and the media are all a by-product of the opportunities Title IX helped ensure.

Beyond sports, Title IX also created broader protections for women against campus sexual harassment and assault. In 1977, Catharine MacKinnon advised a group of students in the landmark case Alexander vs. Yale, to sue based on sexual harassment as a form of discrimination. Although they lost the case, the women forced Yale to establish a harassment grievance board and procedures for women to file complaints. Hundreds of other colleges followed as MacKinnon’s work helped shape the thinking about sexual harassment.

Other cases based on Title IX continued to provide women with additional protections. In 2003, Yale was at the center of another Title IX controversy when Kathryn Kelly sued, alleging violations of Title IX with Yale failing to provide her with academic assistance after she reported a sexual assault. The court ruled in her favor that “further encounters, of any sort, between a rape victim and her attacker could create an environment sufficiently hostile to deprive the victim of access to educational opportunities provided by a university.” In 2011 sixteen more students at Yale filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights, arguing that Yale is a sexually hostile environment. As ugly as the facts surrounding these cases were, they helped set the stage for the sexual assault activism that eventually spawned the Me Too movement and helped enact changes on campuses and in the workplace. 

While more progress can clearly be made over the next fifty years, the far reaching positive impact of providing women equal access to education will be felt for generations. By giving women the opportunity to learn, compete and thrive in a protected environment, Title IX might be considered one of the most important legacies of the Civil Rights era and one of its longest enduring pieces of legislation.