For two years, my collaborators and I have been studying these women, who worked under the radar in Washington, DC, to create this movement by organizing to pass Title IX and holding hearings to expose the issue of gender inequality.
I was born in 1969. For my generation, Title IX was synonymous with women’s sports. For later generations, the Title IX office at their schools is known as the place to report instances of sexual harassment or assault. Gwendolyn Mink, Patsy Mink’s daughter, said it best when she told me: “Title IX is not a command. It is a promise. But the person who suffers the discrimination has to speak up. Every generation needs to know what their rights are, how they can make life more fair for girls and women, and for boys and men, too, in education.”
With Mink on her committee, Green looked to address sex discrimination in education, but she didn’t feel she had the support to make significant changes.
The efforts of the four women led to the crucial 37 words in Nixon’s education 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 program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
The system worked, as they believed it would. As they knew it should.
While we celebrate all that has been achieved by Title IX and reflect on how it will be applied in the future, it is also worth remembering the legislation was born at a time when there was a groundswell of support for Congress to change society for the better. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was followed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the passage of Title IX in 1972.
When Title IX passed, Sandler was convinced that sex discrimination would end within a year of its implementation, her great-niece Rora Brodwin told me. Then she changed her prediction to five years, and then to 10. When she was in her late 80s, she said she knew it wouldn’t be in her lifetime, but she remained positive that day would come.
It certainly does not feel that way today, with factions in Congress obstructing legislation and a majority on the Supreme Court seemingly determined to undo the progressive legacy of the 1960’s and 70’s. But that outcome is not predetermined, not when there is a vocal constituency in support of protecting and advancing the cause of equal rights.
So let’s use this opportunity of the 50th anniversary of Title IX to celebrate the women and men who still believe our governing body can work — that public policy can lead to great change. Let there be a new dawn and a new day — a functional, aspirational, compassionate and visionary Congress that can change the country for the better.