Bernice Sandler, known as the “Godmother of Title IX” for her work advocating for the rights of women and children in the education system, died on Saturday, the Washington Post reported.
Sandler helped produce and implement Title IX, a bill passed in 1972 that banned sex discrimination in programs that received federal funds.
This includes the sporting field, where boys and girls sports are required to have equal opportunities to play.
Sandler’s work began in 1969 when she graduated with a doctorate degree but could not find a job. One hiring researcher said women too often stay home with sick children; an agency called her “just another housewife who went back to school,” according to the WaPo.
Others had quotas for women (“Your qualifications are excellent, but we already have a woman in this department,” Sandler recalled reading a rejection letter), some did not hire any women or refused to hire married women, she wrote in a Cleveland State law review.
“The label of ‘sex discrimination’ was a new one for me, and initially I was not ready to apply it to my not getting the position at Maryland,” she wrote.
But she unable to “rationalize away” some of the rejections she received on the basis of her sex.
It was not illegal to discriminate against women. But there had been an amendment to a President Lyndon B. Johnson executive order that banned this in federally-contracted organizations.
Sandler called it a “genuine ‘Eureka’ moment.”
Within four months, there were federal investigations of sex discrimination at Harvard and Michigan.
Even then, Sandler was unaware of how this would impact athletics.
“My understanding of Title IX’s impact on sports was something like this: ‘Isn’t this nice! Because of Title IX, at the annual Field Day Events in schools, there will be more activities for girls,'” she wrote.
Prior to the passage, only one in 27 high school girls — less than four percent — played sports, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation. Now, it’s about two in every five.
The foundation cites a 990 percent growth in girls high school athletics.
This has helped lead to an increase in women’s participation in college, professional leagues and the Olympics.
Sandler died of cancer at the age of 90, according to the Washington Post.