Former Senator Birch Bayh is someone I want you to know about. He died last month at the age of 91. If you are a young woman lawyer, chances are that the name does not ring a bell.
But, ring the bell for girls and women is exactly what the U. S. Senator from Indiana did when he championed passage of the federal law banning discrimination against women and girls in college admissions and sports. Bayh was the lead sponsor of the landmark 1972 law, which is most often referred to as Title IX.
The law’s passage came at a time when women earned fewer than 10 percent of all medical and law degrees and fewer than 300,000 high school girls—only 1 in 27—played sports. Today, thanks to Birch Bayh and other lawmakers, women make up more than half of those receiving bachelor and graduate degrees, including law degrees, and one out of every two high school girls plays sports today.
For some perspective, many of the articles lauding the contributions of Senator Bayh at the time of his death reflected that, in the 1970’s, a handful of states still restricted the way that high school girls could participate in the sport of basketball. Instead of playing the game the way it is played today, with five players on each team and all playing full court, girls basketball evolved with six-player teams and the restriction that the three players on each team in the forward positions could not cross over the half-court line. And the three guards on each team were not allowed to shoot.
If you are thinking that the game was not much fun to play, you would be right. I was one of those middle school forwards standing at the half court line, and I know. I could shoot around as an equal with the boys in my neighborhood, but when I got to school the rules changed.
Basketball played that way was not much fun to watch either. Try to imagine March Madness with that set up!
Thanks to Senator Birch Bayh, young women today have a much improved chance of being admitted to law school — and have a lot more fun playing basketball!
To read more about Senator Birch Bayh and Title IX, read the obituary.