Happy 50th, Title IX: All the Milestones and Mayhem of the Gender Equality Law

Happy 50th, Title IX: All the Milestones and Mayhem of the Gender Equality Law

The federal law that prohibits gender inequality in schools and sports turns half a century old today. Let us celebrate her greatest hits!

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Image for article titled Happy 50th, Title IX: All the Milestones and Mayhem of the Gender Equality Law
Photo: Getty Images (Getty Images)

Title IX turns 5o today, and she doesn’t look a day over 49!

The landmark legislation, signed into law by Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972, is often mistaken as a law that only prohibits gender inequality in athletics, since some of its biggest wins and most notable advocates have been in the sports world. But, luckily for those of us who aren’t athletically gifted, it actually prohibits gender inequality for anyone attending a publicly-funded institution.

Title IX has laid the foundation for some monumental gains in the ongoing fight for gender equality. The statute—which people love to say is but one mere sentence and only 37 words—states: “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.” Seems simple enough!

The law still has a lot to accomplish when it comes to addressing campus sexual assault, racial discrimination, and trans rights. But for now, we celebrate its birthday with a brief stroll down memory lane.

Advertisement

2 / 13

June 23, 1972: Richard Nixon signs Title IX into law

June 23, 1972: Richard Nixon signs Title IX into law

Edith Green, left, and Patsy Mink.
Edith Green, left, and Patsy Mink.
Photo: Getty Images (Getty Images)

You already know what Richard Nixon looks like. Here, instead, are Rep. Edith Green of Oregon and Rep. Patsy Mink of Hawaii, the latter of whom was the first woman of color elected to Congress. Mink is often called the “mother” of Title IX for defending the law—the statute was renamed the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act after her death in 2002—while Greene is called the “true mother,” since she actually wrote the bill and introduced it to Congress. But without either woman, Title IX would not exist as we know it.

Advertisement

3 / 13

1974: Ann Meyers Drysdale gets a basketball scholarship

1974: Ann Meyers Drysdale gets a basketball scholarship

Ann Meyers Drysdale in 1978, left, and in 2017.
Ann Meyers Drysdale in 1978, left, and in 2017.
Photo: AP/Getty Images

Ann Meyers Drysdale signed to UCLA’s basketball team in 1974—making her the first female recipient of a full athletic scholarship in any sport. The star basketball player would go on to play in the Olympics, become the No.1 pick for the first women’s professional basketball league, the Women’s Basketball League, become a sports broadcaster, and be named to 20 (twenty!) Hall of Fames. She’s currently a color analyst for the Phoenix Suns and vice president of the Phoenix Mercury. This week, she wrote a very nice piece for the Associated Press detailing how Title IX is what allowed her to live a truly remarkable life.

Advertisement

4 / 13

1976: NCAA gets mad, and so do Yale women’s crew

1976: NCAA gets mad, and so do Yale women’s crew

The 1976 Yale University rowing team, right to left (stern to bow), Gloria Graz, Jackie Zoch, Nancy Storrs, Chris Ernst, and Carol Brown.
The 1976 Yale University rowing team, right to left (stern to bow), Gloria Graz, Jackie Zoch, Nancy Storrs, Chris Ernst, and Carol Brown.
Photo: Getty Images (Getty Images)

After only four years of Title IX, the NCAA got so fed up with having to ensure women receive equal opportunity in college athletics that they sued the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to get rid of it, claiming that athletic programs don’t receive federal assistance. The suit was dismissed.

That same year, the women’s crew team at Yale protested their mistreatment in what ESPN has since referred to as the protest “that helped defined the Title IX movement.” At the time, the women’s team didn’t have their own showers or locker rooms and had to wait for the men to finish up before being allowed to use the facilities. They didn’t have uniforms and had to use the men’s old, broken equipment. (People deserve equality whether or not they win or lose but...it should be noted that the women’s team had been winning and the men’s team losing.)

In March, 19 women from the team stormed the office of Yale’s director of physical education and stripped naked to reveal “Title IX” written on their backs in Yale blue. The team’s captain, Chris Ernst, read a statement that began with “These are the bodies Yale is exploiting. We have come here today to make clear how unprotected we are,” and ended with, “We’re human and being treated as less than such.” A defining moment for Title IX.

Advertisement

5 / 13

1979: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

1979: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Image for article titled Happy 50th, Title IX: All the Milestones and Mayhem of the Gender Equality Law
Photo: Getty Images (Getty Images)

Women outnumber men in undergraduate enrollment for the first time. (By 1982, they’ll be earning more bachelor’s degrees than men.) The gender pay gap is still a giant gap. They still face insane amounts of discrimination at home, at work, and at school. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act won’t be signed into law for another 30 years—but still, huge first step and a solid win for Title IX.

Advertisement

6 / 13

March 1980: Rifle shooting makes gender equality history

March 1980: Rifle shooting makes gender equality history

The final competition of the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Rifle Championships in Colorado Springs, CO, in 2005.
The final competition of the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Rifle Championships in Colorado Springs, CO, in 2005.
Photo: Getty Images (Getty Images)

The NCAA rifle shooting championship in Johnson City, Tennessee, became the very first co-ed championship. One year later, the NCAA would finally start holding championships for women’s sports. So, thank you rifle shooting. I may have never thought of you before, and I may never think about you again, but your contribution is duly noted.

Advertisement

7 / 13

September 1980: Title IX’s first sexual misconduct case

September 1980: Title IX’s first sexual misconduct case

Harkness Tower on the Yale University campus in 2019.
Harkness Tower on the Yale University campus in 2019.
Photo: AP (AP)

In 1977, five undergraduate women sued Yale under Title IX after they’d complained that faculty members had sexually assaulted and/or harassed them—and the university had done nothing to address their concerns or their safety. The plaintiffs, Ronni Alexander, Margery Reifler, Pamela Price, Lisa E. Stone, and Ann Olivarius, argued that sexual harassment was a form of sex discrimination, thereby violating their Title IX rights. Instead of asking for damages, they only asked that Yale be ordered to set up a grievance procedure for survivors. They lost their case but Yale, as well as most U.S universities at the time, did set up grievance procedures for students who felt they had been sexually harassed. Alexander v. Yale would become a landmark case that lay the groundwork for all future sexual misconduct cases under Title IX.

Advertisement

8 / 13

April 2012: The greatest basketball coach of all time?

April 2012: The greatest basketball coach of all time?

Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt reacts to a foul on the court against Texas in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in 2011.
Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt reacts to a foul on the court against Texas in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in 2011.
Photo: AP (AP)

Pat Summitt, who coached the University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team from 1974 to 2012, retired with 1,098 wins in 2012—a record for any NCAA basketball coach at the time. Her record was eventually eclipsed by Stanford women’s head coach Tara VanDerveer, with 1,157 wins, and the University of Connecticut women’s head coach Geno Auriemma, with 1,149 wins. This year, Mike Krzyzewski, head coach of Duke’s men’s basketball, retired with 1,202 wins. VanDerveer’s gotta put in a couple more seasons.

Advertisement

9 / 13

2013: Know Your IX is founded

2013: Know Your IX is founded

Alexandra Brodsky speaks onstage during the New York Times Schools for Tomorrow conference in 2015.
Alexandra Brodsky speaks onstage during the New York Times Schools for Tomorrow conference in 2015.
Photo: Getty Images (Getty Images)

In 2011, Alexandra Brodsky, then an undergraduate student at Yale University filed a Title IX complaint against the university for having “a sexually hostile environment” and failing to “adequately respond to sexual harassment concerns.” Brodsky who was told not to tell anyone about her experience in order to protect her reputation filed the suit with 15 other students. Meanwhile, Dana Bolger, then an undergraduate at Amherst College, was told to take time off from school to avoid her rapist. “A few years ago, when we were each sexually assaulted by a student on our campus, we had no idea that Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments was about anything more than women’s sports,” Bolger wrote in an opinion piece for HuffPost in 2013. 

The pair eventually connected to launch Know Your IX, creating a massive movement to addressed campus sexual assault across the U.S. Know Your IX was designed to educate students about the law and let them know that, yes, if your school ignores your sexual assault complaint, they’re violating your Title IX rights.

Advertisement

10 / 13

2016: Obama says trans rights are human rights

2016: Obama says trans rights are human rights

President Barack Obama in 2016.
President Barack Obama in 2016.
Photo: Getty Images (Getty Images)

In May 2016, the Obama administration sent a letter to schools across the U.S. declaring that transgender students at public schools must be allowed to use whatever bathroom matches their gender identity, and anything less would be a violation of Title IX. The letter also said that if a state failed to abide by the guidelines, it risked being sued by the federal government and losing its education funding.

This was after North Carolina’s contentious “bathroom bill” entered the political arena, stating that in public facilities, people had to use the restroom that matched the gender on their birth certificate. The dumb bill cost the state around $3.76 billion in revenue, according to equalitync.org, since so many companies and performers avoided the state after it was passed. The bill was eventually killed, but unfortunately, trans rights have only grown more contested in the years since.

Advertisement

11 / 13

2019: Department of Education fines University of Michigan for Title IX violation

2019: Department of Education fines University of Michigan for Title IX violation

U.S. Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, and NCAA and world champion gymnast Maggie Nichols after testifying during a Senate Judiciary hearing on the FBI’s handling of the Larry Nassar investigation in 2021.
U.S. Olympic gymnasts Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, and NCAA and world champion gymnast Maggie Nichols after testifying during a Senate Judiciary hearing on the FBI’s handling of the Larry Nassar investigation in 2021.
Photo: Getty Images (Getty Images)

In 2018, USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was convicted of criminal sexual conduct and sentenced up to 175 years in Michigan state prison. Multiple members of USA gymnastics, including Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, and McKayla Maroney, had came forward to allege years of sexual abuse at the hands of Nassar. While Nassar was a doctor at Michigan State University, he’d had several Title IX complaints against him, but none were investigated. In 2019, the Department of Education announced they were fining the University of Michigan $4.5 million for its Title IX violations and “systemic failure” in addressing Nassar abuse claims.

In June, Biles, Raisman, and dozens of other gymnasts announced they were seeking $1 billion from the FBI for their botched investigation into Nassar.

Advertisement

12 / 13

2022

2022

U.S. Women’s soccer team during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
U.S. Women’s soccer team during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Photo: Getty Images (Getty Images)

In May, U.S. women’s soccer announced they’d finally be paid the same as the men’s team. Not literally a Title IX win, but a Title IX-influenced victory, nonetheless!

On Thursday morning, the Biden administration announced an overhaul of Title IX’s campus sexual assault rules, which essentially reverses the terrible Trump-era guidelines that allowed survivors to be cross-examined by their abuser—among other guidelines that sought to protect the assaulter and not the survivor. The Biden administration’s rules will also expand protections for LGBTQI+ students. But the statute still has plenty of mountains to climb. In April, Pew Research Center conducted a poll and found that 63 percent of Americans think Title IX’s had a positive impact on gender inequality, while 37 percent believe it hasn’t gone far enough.

“Obviously, there’s still a way to go,” Venus Williams wrote in an essay for Newsweek’s Title IX issue. “I do have moments where I sigh and I think, ‘Wow, can’t we just all consider ourselves human and stop treating each other unequally?’ But those are just moments.”

Advertisement

13 / 13