'Godmother of Title IX' Dr. Bernice Sandler Dies

Billie Jean King speaks at an event commemorating the 45th anniversary of Title IX
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Bernice Sandler, who laid the groundwork for Title IX after she was repeatedly turned down for academic jobs because she was a woman, has died at 90.

The opening lines of her obituary at the Washington Post are a real thrill ride for your blood pressure:

In 1969, her newly earned doctorate in hand, Bernice Sandler was hoping to land one of seven open teaching positions in her department at the University of Maryland. When she learned she had been considered for none of them, she asked a male colleague about the oversight. “Let’s face it,” was his reply. “You come on too strong for a woman.”

When she applied for another academic position, the hiring researcher remarked that he didn’t hire women because they too often stayed home with sick children. Later, an employment agency reviewed her résumé and dismissed her as “just a housewife who went back to school.”

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Love to feel hypertensive from rage! But rather than simply spontaneously combusting out of anger—after all, this was the expected norm at the time—Sandler began a lifetime’s work of documenting sex discrimination against women in academic settings and fighting it. Her big stroke of inspiration was realizing that because so many universities had federal contracts, they were subject to an executive order forbidding sex discrimination by federal contractors. She used that wedge to raise such a ruckus that it eventually resulted in Title IX.

She later admitted that she was wildly optimistic about how long it would take to sort out this longstanding problem:

“When Title IX was passed I was quite naive,” Dr. Sandler said. “I thought all the problems of sex discrimination in education would be solved in one or two years at most. When two years passed, I increased my estimate to five years, then later to ten, then to fifty, and now I realize it will take many generations to solve all the problems.”

[The long sound of the wind blowing over the empty fields as I stare into the middle distance.]

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