Dr. Bernice Sandler, known as the “godmother of Title IX” for her work advocating for women’s and girls rights in education, died over the weekend at the age of 90. The Washington Post published her obituary Monday.
Sandler first embarked on a decades-long campaign against sex discrimination in academia in 1969. It led to the 1972 passage of Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in federally funded educational institutions.
For her life’s work, Sandler was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York, in 2013.
Title IX was passed with students and women in the collegiate environment in mind, though it is most widely used to open up opportunities and equal treatment for female student-athletes.
Sandler Changes College Culture
Sandler was met with what’s now termed sex discrimination when she applied for seven different teaching positions at the University of Maryland. She had a doctorate from the school in psychology and counseling but was not considered. Nor was she considered for future positions.
It was three words from hiring managers, Sandler said in a 1994 interview, that changed the paths of Sandler and millions of women after her:
“I don’t think I would have noticed if they’d said you come on too strong,” she said. The problem was that phrase “too strong for a woman.”
There was no federal law prohibiting discrimination against women in education, but Sandler found there was an executive order by President Lyndon B. Johnson that prohibited it by organizations with federal contracts. That included public universities and gave Sandler a “Eureka moment,” the Washington Post recounted.
She joined the Women’s Equity Action League, formed the one-woman “Federal Action Contract Compliance Committee,” and challenged 250 institutions while coordinating a massive letter-writing campaign. She then worked for a House subcommittee and the Health, Education and Welfare Department.
Title IX was passed on June 23, 1972 because of her work, and is most widely used in reference to equality in collegiate sports for both men and women.