Bernice Sandler, a women’s rights activist whose efforts to upend unfair hiring practices in academia helped lead to Congress’ passage in 1972 of Title IX, passed away in her Washington home on Saturday at the age of 90.
A former part-time teacher, Sandler began her work in activism after earning her doctorate from the University of Maryland in 1969 and being refused consideration for any of the seven teaching openings at her department. When she asked a male faculty member why she wasn’t considered for the open positions, he admitted to her that she was more than qualified.
“But let’s face it,” he added. “You come on too strong for a woman.”
Stung, Sandler began looking into sex discrimination law and discovered an until-then largely ignored executive order signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson that prohibited federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, or sex.
“It was a genuine ‘Eureka’ moment,” Sandler would later recall. “I actually shrieked aloud for I immediately realized that many universities and colleges had federal contracts (and) were therefore subject to the sex discrimination provisions of the executive order.”
She joined the Women’s Equity Action League, and with the group’s support filed a class-action lawsuit against roughly 250 colleges and universities for participating in “an industrywide pattern” of discrimination against women in hiring. Her advocacy brought her to the attention of Reps. Edith Green and Patsy Mink and Sen. Birch Bayh, who enlisted her onto the congressional committee that later drafted the Title IX legislation.
The bill barring gender discrimination in education passed with little fanfare, but it’s scope impacting all educational institutions that receive federal funds would force schools to become truly gender-equal access in all aspects — including enrollment, housing, courses, faculty hiring, and athletics.
The equalization of funding for men and women’s college sports would prove particularly impactful. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, under 4 percent of girls participated in sports before Title IX. In 2016, by comparison, 40 percent of girls were actively engaged in athletics.
Dubbed “The Godmother of Title IX,” she spent much of the rest of her life as an activist and expert on issues such as sexual harassment and sexist bias — both conscious and unconscious. On social media, women’s rights activists and others across the country have paid tribute to her legacy.
Thank you Bernice Sandler, “Godmother of Title IX”, for coming on “too strong for a woman” and paving the way for the opportunities afforded so many girls and women today. https://t.co/FzyR01gVuc
— Cheryl Reeve (@LynxCoachReeve) January 8, 2019
I was sad to hear about the death of Bernice Sandler, the “godmother of Title IX.” #TitleIX has opened the doors to colleges, universities, & locker rooms for our sisters, daughters, & friends. This wouldn't have been possible w/o Dr. Sandler’s passionate devotion to #TitleIX.
— Sen. Patrick Leahy (@SenatorLeahy) January 8, 2019
“My mother always said, ‘I wanted to change the world, and I did,’” recalled Sandler’s daughter, Deborah Jo Sandler. “She was a big believer in people having equal opportunity to do what they wanted to do. She was stubborn and tough and just a true inspiration. People would come up to her all the time and thank her.”
Read the full story at CNN.