June 23rd marks the anniversary of the passage of the Education Amendments of 1972 that included the important gender non-discrimination section, Title IX.
Co-authored and introduced by Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana, Title IX is most often associated with high school and collegiate athletics, but the original statute addresses gender discrimination more broadly. While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had barred general gender discrimination, it did not specifically prohibit gender discrimination in public education and federally assisted programs.
Beginning in 1967, President Lyndon Johnson sent a series of executive orders attempting to clarify that the general ban on gender discrimination included federal contracts, hiring and employment, including at state colleges and universities. In 1969 alone, women filed more than 300 complaints against educational institutions over pay equity and employment decisions, all citing the Civil Rights Act. However, by 1970 the general ban on gender discrimination needed clarification.
The Higher Education Act of 1965 increased federal financial support to state universities and colleges, and in 1972, Senator Bayh used its reauthorization debates as an opportunity to introduce specific guidelines regarding gender equality. Bayh understood that Title IX represented an important first step toward providing women an equal opportunity to attend the college of their choice and develop skills with a reasonable expectation of a fair chance at equal pay and work.
While the contemporary application of Title IX has come under fire, especially as it relates to men’s athletic programs, the balance between the broad scope and specific language paved the way for significant and real change in the lives of millions of women.