The ripple effect of the landmark Title IX continues on its 50th anniversary

When President Nixon signed Title IX of the Education Amendments into law on June 23, 1972, it wasn’t immediately apparent that this would come to be regarded as ground-breaking legislation. To quote from a recent Wall Street Journal article: “The law had bipartisan support and its guiding purpose — prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions — was so uncontroversial that a New York Times article gave the story a mere sentence of coverage.” Flash forward 50 years to today: Title IX is now considered by many to be “one of the most consequential domestic laws of our time.” 

When Title IX’s final regulations were issued in 1975, the law covered women and girls, students, and employees — protecting them all from discrimination. This includes sexual harassment, admissions policies, basically every aspect of education K-12 for institutions that receive federal funding. Today Title IX is most often equated with women’s sports, but it was originally part of a broader movement towards women’s rights and gender equity across the board under Nixon.

In April of 1971, a little over a year prior to the passage of Title IX, Barbara Hackman Franklin was appointed as staff assistant to the president. Thanks in large part to her outstanding leadership in this area, by 1972 the White House had almost tripled the number of jobs for women in policy making positions (from 36 to 105) and had promoted 1,000 additional women into mid-level federal jobs. The first women became sky marshals, secret service agents, air traffic controllers, narcotics agents, and tugboat captains. The number of women on presidential commissions and boards was also greatly expanded.

This intensification of efforts to include women in federal government and to bring about gender equity in both the public and private spheres under this president shouldn’t be surprising. Nixon had originally co-sponsored the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the Senate in 1951. In 1972, the president reaffirmed his support for the ERA: the amendment passed in Congress that year and was sent on the states for ratification. 

To quote from Secretary Franklin herself: “President Nixon’s actions brought gender equality into the mainstream of American life. He made equality ‘legitimate.’ This legitimacy rippled through our society and helped create new opportunities for women in business, in education, the professions, the arts and athletics.” 

This ripple effect of the landmark Title IX legislation continues today. Just last month, the United States Soccer Federation reached a landmark collective bargaining agreement with its men and women’s soccer teams to align pay and share prize money. The agreement established equal pay for equal work with the men’s and women’s soccer teams working together on the deal: something that never would have happened without the foundation of Title IX and other Nixon-era programs supporting women’s equity that both proceeded and followed this Amendment. Under President Nixon and with the vision and implementation of Barbara Hackman Franklin and her female colleagues, gender equity — an issue that had been put on the back burner for years by previous administrations — finally became a top priority.

Heath Hardage Lee is a writer, independent historian and curator. She wrote the nonfiction book, “The League of Wives: The Untold Story of the Women Who Took on the U.S. Government to Bring Their Husbands Home from Vietnam,” was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2019. Her latest exhibition developed for Sen. Bob Dole and the Dole Institute of Politics is entitled “The League of Wives: Vietnam POW MIA Advocates & Allies.”