18 March 2010

Women in Physical Education: Title IX

In 1974, Kathleen Saunders-Nordeen was appointed as the first Director of Women's Intercollegiate Athletics. In 1975 the Oral History Archive did an interview. Here are some excerpts.

Interviewer: "I do know that women have had a hard time at the University from way back-- the whole coeducational idea was vigorously fought at the turn of the century by the administration. Chadburn was for really considerable segregation of the sexes in terms of practically all activities."

KSN: "I think to a great extent, women perpetuated that."

Interviewer: "How do you mean?"

KSN: "Back in the late 20s or early 30s, we had some of the strongest leaders in the country here on our campus as far as Physical Education is concerned. And women's athletics have grown out of Physical Education, because that's where the leadership was, but they've also been slowed down a whole lot by Physical Education leaders and the feeling that it was wrong to put all your efforts and all your facilities and all your finances into making a small number of people really highly skilled and really concentrating all your efforts on a small number of people.

"The philosophy was that it was far better to have a thousand women who were really mediocre athletes, given the opportunity, and it was as if you couldn't possibly do both."

Interviewer: "Why not?"

KSN: "That's the point. Now maybe at that point resources were so limited that you couldn't, or maybe it was just real narrow kind of thinking. But this thinking, and I think Blanche Trilling who was here on our campus and does deserve a lot of credit in Physical Education, has been one of the leaders in the country who kept women's athletics from progressing.

"From then on, for 40 or 50 years, nothing happened in women's athletics. Before that, we had very strong women's teams in a lot of sports-- there were 250 women out for rowing in 1920. Of course they were largely intramural teams, but the interest was there, and the skill was there.

"But things just kind of died for about 40 or 50 years, and during that time the men's programs were still growing. And now when women are trying to get back into facilities and back into budgets, it's very difficult. We're trying to crack back into something that's been allowed to grow and we've been just dragging our feet."


KSN: "The women's crew has done really very well, they've gotten themselves recognized nationally, which is very good in 3 or 4 years."

Interviewer: "That recently? Even though they've been rowing since the 20s?"

KSN: "Well, they rowed in the 20s, and then there was no rowing again until about three years ago when several women students from one of the lakeshore dorms decided it might be kind of fun to get out there in those shells. They came to me at Lathrop and we sent them to the men's crew coach who said, OK, We'll give it a try, see how many people you have interested. I don't know that he thought they'd make it through the first winter, because he really zapped it to them with the same kind of training that the guys have-- which meant running several miles in below zero weather, working in the tank rowing, and working on the odometers and lifting weights and doing all these things. Instead of that having that make them lose interest, it grew, because women really did want to push themselves and see how good they could become."


KSN: "I'm sure the women's movement has helped a lot, because it's okay for women to be good at almost anything they want now. Physical activity just happens to be one of those things. It's kind of a new freedom or something."


KSN: "Right now, it looks very much like the interpretation of Title IX is going to be that if there are scholarships given for men in any institution, then you've got to do it for women also. Right now the income producing sports are not exempted from the guidelines of Title IX; It looks to me that they probably will be exempted, if the guidelines come out at all.

"Now my understanding is that they're getting kicked around so much because of pressure groups like NCAA who don't want athletics included in it at all, that we may never get the guidelines out, which would be really a shame.

It was pointed out to me a couple weeks ago that even if the guidelines never come out, never get signed by the president, the impact that they've had and the threat that they've had to institutions has done an awful lot to programs for women getting started, just the idea that they were there. I think also some institutions, we have to give some credit, it's not just the threat behind Title IX but the concept that was pointed out so vividly by Title IX that women's athletic programs really have been short-changed and it really is discrimination."

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