Landmark 1972 legislation opens the doors to opportunity for women in athletics — and beyond.
“No person in the United States shall, based on 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.”
— Passed by the 92nd U.S. Congress, signed into law by President Richard Nixon, effective June 23, 1972
It almost didn’t happen.
As the War in Vietnam waged on, as women’s empowerment was making its mark, Title IX was being debated in Congress as a way to prohibit discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs. Then, an amendment was proposed to exempt athletic departments.
That effort failed, and despite continuing unsuccessful attacks over the past five decades in Congress and the courts, scores of female student-athletes from elementary to graduate school have benefited from the protections of Title IX.
The high-profile attempts to limit Title IX’s impact on athletics, along with equally visible advances for female student-athletes, prompted widespread misunderstanding that the law pertained only to sex-equity in athletics. In fact, the original version of Title IX included no mention of sports at all. It was always about civil rights and education.
Universities that had previously set small quotas for women in male-dominated degree programs like engineering, law and science withdrew those restrictions. Recruitment, admissions and financial aid policies became more equitable. Pregnant and parenting students were treated more fairly. In the 1980s and 90s, U.S. Supreme Court decisions clarified that sexual harassment and assault were forms of discrimination, prompting important policy advances to ensure student safety. LGBTQ students also earned protection from discrimination under Title IX.
While it continues to have broad impact in education, Title IX deserves monumental credit for elevating opportunities for women to soar athletically — and academically. The UW awarded scholarships to 117 women in 2021-22; excluding Football, more women earn scholarships than men at Washington. A report by the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education notes that about 30,000 women competed in college athletics before Title IX. An estimated 220,000 compete today (along with 280,000 men), according to the data company Statista.
The University of Washington and schools across the nation continue to vigilantly monitor compliance with Title IX. With this watchful eye, opportunities are sure to grow. As Husky Athletics kicks off a year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, we’ll be sharing much more info in the months to come.