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Bernice Sandler, 'Godmother' Of Title IX, Dies At 90

Jan 9, 2019
Originally published on January 9, 2019 4:46 pm
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We're going to take the next few minutes to remember the woman being called the godmother of Title IX. Bernice Sandler died this past weekend at the age of 90. She was the catalyst for the landmark civil rights legislation that made it illegal for schools receiving federal funds to discriminate on the basis of sex. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Title IX was passed in 1972, but the seed for that momentous law was planted about 40 years earlier in an elementary school in Brooklyn. That's when young Bernice Sandler was offended by the way the boys got to do all the classroom activities.

MARTY LANGELAN: For example, running a slide projector.

GOLDMAN: Marty Langelan was Sandler's friend and colleague for nearly 50 years.

LANGELAN: You know, I mean, simple everyday things. You know, oh, we'll have the boys do this. If it was important, the boys did it. And she told her mother back then when she was a schoolgirl that she was going to change the world, that this was wrong. And, boy, she sure did.

GOLDMAN: But not until the late 1960s. Sandler was teaching part time at the University of Maryland and was told she wouldn't be considered for a full-time position because she came on too strong for a woman. Langelan says Sandler decided this had to be illegal. But back then, discrimination in education was rampant - departments refusing to hire women, grad programs denying admission to women, scholarships for men only. Sandler was a meticulous person, and so she started doing research and found presidential Executive Order 11246. It prohibited federal contractors from discriminating in employment on the basis of race and nationality.

LANGELAN: And then she found a footnote that said it had been amended by President Johnson in 1968 to include discrimination based on sex. She literally yelled, eureka, eureka - because most colleges had federal contracts.

GOLDMAN: Over the next two years, Sandler filed around 250 complaints demanding the government enforce its regulations. This led to dramatic congressional hearings and, ultimately, the signing by President Richard Nixon of Title IX. The law's initial focus was on academic hiring and admissions, but Title IX's impact spread to all areas of discrimination - to sexual harassment on campus, and its most visible manifestation, sports. I interviewed Sandler in 2012, and she laughed about how she never really thought about causing a sea change in athletics.

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BERNICE SANDLER: And I remember saying, isn't this great news? On field day or play day, that's a day when schools cancel classes and they have athletic relays and games and stuff while outside. And I'm saying, on field day, there's gonna be more activities for girls. Isn't that nice?

GOLDMAN: Marty Langelan says when she first met Sandler in the early 1970s, she was struck by this little, tiny person who was incredibly cheerful. Langelan says she never saw Sandler angry at anyone, but she had moral anger about injustice. Langelan says, near the end of her life, Sandler recognized she'd lived up to her schoolgirl promise. Bernice Bunny Sandler leaves behind two daughters, three grandkids and countless girls and women in sports and academia forever indebted. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.