Women’s athletics before Title IX: Pre-equality athletes return this weekend

By Steve Yang

yangstev@grinnell.edu

Before Title IX was formally signed into law in 1972, there were no varsity women’s teams at Grinnell. Women interested in participating in athletics programs were limited to intramurals and club teams, where some notable successes were achieved: for example, the women’s field hockey team defeated the team from the University of Iowa and other big-school teams to claim the Iowa state title. In honor of these female athletes, both before and after the signing of Title IX, the Office for Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) is hosting numerous events for the first Pioneer Women’s Weekend from April 21 to 22.

Without any of the formal resources that came with being varsity athletes, Grinnell’s female athletes have lacked their due recognition and a fair playing field. However, Saturday’s public events are intended to remedy a small part of that inequality: there will be alumni and staff panels exploring attitudes on physical activity, sports before Title IX was passed and the evolution of women’s athletics at the College.

“We sent out a letter and a survey to … earlier female Grinnell graduates, asking them to … tell us a little bit about their memories about the time before Title IX passed,” said DAR director Jayn Chaney ’05. “We’ve … been working over the last two years to put together this program.”

Chaney credited Anne Anderson ’64 for mentioning the progress that has been made in the six decades since she graduated from Grinnell. Anderson also suggest a celebration and acknowledgement of the significant number of Grinnell women who participated in athletics. Because of her, many have received their “Honor G” letter jackets. Anderson will be part of a panel moderated by Karen Blumenthal, an award-winning author who penned “Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX.”

“Karen Blumenthal will discuss the ramifications above and beyond equity in athletics … You’re going to hear a lot of these really cool stories,” Chaney said, referring to the women’s hockey victory.

Other events will include a talk by Judy Lutter ’61 about debunking myths pertaining to women’s athletics, and also feature commentary from influential women who have led various athletics programs at Grinnell, like long-time former athletic director Dee Fairchild and current women’s cross-country and track head coach Evelyn Freeman.

“We hope that this will be an opportunity for Grinnellians to learn about how the College’s Pioneer women, who were working to compete and to engage with each other … but who weren’t given the recognition and institutional support” Chaney said. “I hope that this weekend will … celebrate these women in a way that they haven’t been celebrated in the past … today’s women athletes stand on the shoulders of these women.”

The weekend will kick off with an exhibition in the Bear fitness center featuring historical photos, posters and various memorabilia. Zaw Bo ’18, an intern in the DAR Office, said that the organizers hope more than just student athletes will show up, and that this will be an inclusive and exciting event for athletes and non-athletes alike.

“Student perspectives have a lot of value, and it’s a way for alums to reconnect to the institution and see how we’ve progressed,” Bo said. “Women had to fight for their right to exercise as a team.”

A link to the weekend’s events can be found here: https://alumni.grinnell.edu/events/event-registrations/pioneer-womens-weekend-2017