But the congressional action is only half of the origin story of Title IX. The other, equally important half concerns activism that began a decade before 1972 and was continued by a large open feminist network across the United States. These activists – working alongside federal government administrators, civil servants, members of Congress and their employees – have made Title IX a reality.
Title IX’s history in Congress revolves around Rep. Edith Green (D-Ore.) — the chair of the Subcommittee on Higher Education — leading a successful legislative effort in the House, while Sen. Birch Bayh ( D-Ind.) pushed the bill through the upper house.
In 1970, Green introduced an omnibus education bill that included a provision prohibiting sex discrimination. She then held the first-ever congressional hearings on sex discrimination in education, but the bill never passed in committee. In 1971, Green again introduced an omnibus education bill that included a provision prohibiting sex discrimination. This time, with great effort, she managed to get her provision accepted by the Grand Committee, followed by the approval of the whole House.
On the Senate side, Bayh struggled to introduce a gender discrimination amendment to an education bill. He was not on the subcommittee on education, and that committee’s chairman, Claiborne Pell (DR.I.), did not want potentially conflicting issues to disrupt the federal undergraduate student loan program that he was trying to push through – what would become the Pell Grants. After repeated trials, Bayh finally garnered the votes needed to present his amendment to the Senate, where it passed. The House and Senate bills were then sent to a conference committee, resulting in an omnibus compromise bill after long and contentious sessions on the burning provisions for school transportation and school funding. Higher Education. The bill passed with the Title IX provision largely ignored.
But this narrative ignores how, beginning in the 1960s and continuing into the 1970s, three key leaders outside of Congress provided the lobbying energy and crucial documentation needed to make Title IX a reality.
The first leader to emerge was Esther Peterson, who served as Undersecretary of Labor in the administrations of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Peterson guided Kennedy’s Presidential Commission on the Status of Women to advocate for what became the Equal Pay Act of 1963 – and she did so by bringing together like-minded administrators and staff the same ideas, members of Congress, unions and women’s groups. The Equal Pay Act was the first federal law prohibiting discrimination in employment based on sex. But it was relatively low, excluding women working in educational institutions, where most women worked outside the home.
Yet the fact that Congress passed something to address equal pay for women encouraged Peterson and his network of activists to do more. They then pressured Johnson to sign Executive Order 11375 in 1967, an amendment that added “sex” to the protected categories of race, creed, color and national origin in an earlier executive order that prohibited discrimination by federal contractors and subcontractors. Significantly, the amended EO 11246-11375 placed gender on an equal footing with race. And it covered educational institutions, allowing women to file hundreds of sex discrimination complaints.
Peterson, with her ties to federal administrators and staffers, members of Congress, and many feminists, had become a central leader of employment equality initiatives. In other words, she and her network of defenders helped lay the groundwork for Title IX.
Catherine East, a federal government employee, did the same. Over the course of nearly 40 years, East worked her way to a strategic position in the Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor, where she had access to crucial statistics and other information needed to make advancing legislation for women. East worked without fanfare, photocopying statistics, legal briefs and related information to send to lawyers, women’s groups and other interested parties. Recipients copied the information and sent it to others, who often did the same. East, who was active in women’s organizations, also worked to expand her feminist network by connecting women activists.
Bernice Sandler, the third central figure in this growing network, was a highly trained aspiring professor who became a lawyer after losing college jobs because of her gender. She joined the Women’s Equity Action League (WEAL) which was formed in 1968 to focus on equal opportunity for women in employment and education. When Sandler learned of EO 11246-11375, the executive order Peterson had requested the previous year, she immediately thought of its application to colleges and universities, most of which received federal contracts. She met with Vincent Macaluso of the Labor Department, who gave her valuable advice on the complaint process. He also arranged for her to meet East, who he informed Sandler had a wealth of information.
Sandler turned to East for crucial documents that allowed her to file sex discrimination charges against 250 colleges. She also backed up her complaint with data from the extensive network of contacts she had established with female students across the country. East then helped Sandler distribute the complaint and evidence to members of Congress at a crucial time — as Green, as chair of the higher education subcommittee, sought hard data to help her introduce a legislation and to hold hearings on gender discrimination in education. . Green hired Sandler, who prepared for the hearings by contacting potential witnesses; subsequently, she compiled testimonies and related documents into two 1,261-page volumes.
Meanwhile, Sandler and his network of activists provided Bayh with the data he needed to get votes on his amendment to the Senate Education Bill.
With the 50th anniversary of Title IX, it’s time to recognize the significance of Peterson, East and Sandler, who – with overlapping networks of feminist activists and extensive documentation of gender discrimination – provided exactly what Green and Bayh needed to pass Title IX. Congress.