St. Olaf College | News

Professor’s new book shares stories of early leaders in women’s athletics

Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies Diane LeBlanc’s new book features the oral histories of female athletes, coaches, teachers, and administrators during the formative years of Title IX.

When Dorothy McIntyre was a young teacher at Eden Prairie High School during the 1960s, interscholastic sports didn’t exist for female students.

So McIntyre organized informal games in various sports between girls’ teams from neighboring high schools. Since they needed transportation, she asked the principal for permission to use a school bus. He refused. After much debate, he reasoned that the boys’ teams used the bus only because their coach drove it.

You can imagine what happened next. McIntyre called the head bus driver, whose daughters wanted to play competitive sports, and he taught her to drive a bus. A week later, she returned to the principal’s office with her bus driver’s license in hand. She and her students were soon on the road.

leblancdianebook250x375McIntyre’s story is one of eight featured in St. Olaf College Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies Diane LeBlanc’s new book, Playing for Equality: Oral Histories of Women Leaders in the Early Years of Title IX.

LeBlanc is the director of writing at St. Olaf, where she teaches first-year writing, women’s and gender studies, and American studies. The book, co-authored with St. Catherine University Professor Emerita of Exercise and Sport Sciences Allys Swanson, features the oral histories of female athletes, coaches, teachers, and administrators during the formative years of Title IX — the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in all education programs and activities.

“The women featured in our book share a common impulse: when asked to lead, they led,” LeBlanc says. “Their courage is a reminder of how social change actually happens.”

With her new book hot off the press, LeBlanc answered a few questions about what sex-based discrimination women and girls often faced before Title IX and why understanding the history of Title IX is essential in applying it today.

Could you explain the origins of Title IX?
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was a response to sex-based discrimination in education. Girls and women faced overt discrimination through such practices as denying girls and women access to courses and programs that historically enrolled boys and men, tying financial aid to sex-based opportunities, hiring on the basis of sex, and excluding girls and women from competitive sports and athletics. And those are only a few examples.

After Title IX became law, educational programs that received federal money had to demonstrate compliance with nondiscriminatory practices or risk losing their funding.

Title IX was not created specifically to address inequity in sports and athletics, but once physical educators, coaches, administrators, and athletes realized its potential to create change in sports, they began tailoring implementation to specific inequities involving girls and women in sports. There’s still work to be done to address ongoing discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

What sparked your interest in interviewing women involved in or affected by Title IX during its formative years?
Our book and its focus on Title IX evolved from a much larger oral history project. My co-author Allys Swanson was interviewing past presidents of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

I joined the project as an editor many years ago and soon discovered a pattern in the women’s narratives. They recalled limited sport and competitive athletic opportunities before Title IX, and they described social norms that discouraged careers in math, science, and physical education. When we began to brainstorm a book, Title IX was the common historical moment that helped us shape the narratives and frame the sequence of oral histories.

Has Title IX had any personal impact on your life?
Title IX has impacted me as an athlete and an academic. I began running as a teenager because girls’ sports were still quite limited. I love to run, so in a way, a limitation enabled a strength.

I don’t believe gender studies, one of my areas of specialty, would exist as it does if Title IX hadn’t forced higher education to address discrimination against women. And it ignited social change that would open doors for many of the students I teach today.

How have the applications of Title IX expanded since its origins, and how can its history inform our understanding of the law today?
Because Title IX prohibits all forms of sex discrimination in education programs that receive federal funds, its application evolves. Many of the questions and ambiguity that surround its current application to situations involving sexual misconduct and sexual assault are similar to complications that informed its earliest application to sports. I believe that anyone involved in current interpretation and application of Title IX should know this history. And we are living an opportunity to bring together people who navigated Title IX’s impact on sports with people finding their way through new territory with the same law. We hope our book can contribute to that conversation.