Title IX Turns 50: A conversation with two trailblazers
This June marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark law prohibiting sex-based discrimination. After Title IX went into effect on June 23, 1972, educational programs that received federal money had to demonstrate compliance with nondiscriminatory practices — and while the law was not created specifically to address inequality in athletics, coaches and athletes quickly realized its potential to create change in sports.
During Women’s History Month this March, St. Olaf College Vice President for Equity and Inclusion María Pabón Gautier hosted a virtual conversation with two women who were trailblazers on campus in the early days of Title IX: Jeanne Foley ’75 and Aldra Henry Allison ’77.
Foley’s first few years at St. Olaf coincided with the implementation of Title IX, which changed the trajectory of her life. She came to St. Olaf intending to play in the St. Olaf Band and major in music, but she soon found a band of sisters on the basketball and softball teams that defined her time on the Hill and led to a career coaching Division I basketball.
Allison started at St. Olaf a few years after Foley, and they were teammates on the women’s basketball team. Allison was also a member of the women’s track and field team and, in addition to her involvement in athletics, she was president of the Cultural Union for Black Expression (CUBE) and a member of the Political Action Committee.
Foley and Allison are part of a group of Oles whose connection to the college is so strongly tied to their pioneering role in women’s athletics that when they returned to St. Olaf for Reunion Weekend in 2019, they didn’t do so as members of their graduating classes — they did so as part of a reunion group that they simply dubbed The Trailblazers.
“When you looked around and heard people’s stories, it was clear that we were pioneers in a lot more things than just sports,” Foley says.
After four years of playing varsity sports at St. Olaf while majoring in math and physics, Foley set off on a 10-year career as a college basketball coach. She served as an assistant coach at the University of Wyoming, Michigan Tech, Michigan State University (MSU), and the University of Michigan, earning two master’s degrees along the way. She spent the final years of her coaching career as head coach at Princeton University, where she became a charter member of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association in 1983.
In 1984 Foley returned to MSU for a Ph.D. in physiology, putting her math and physics background from St. Olaf to work doing research using magnetic resonance spectroscopy and imaging to study the regulation of energy metabolism in skeletal muscle. After a year as a postdoctoral fellow, she accepted a research and teaching position at MSU, earning tenure in 1996 as well as induction as a fellow in the American College of Sports Medicine.
She switched gears yet again in 2002, heading to the University of Wisconsin-Stout to teach mathematics. She retired from Stout in 2016 as a professor of mathematics and director of the Math Teaching and Learning Center. She and her wife, Katherine, now reside on a peaceful lake in Minnesota where Foley keeps busy biking, hiking, and photographing the nearby wildlife.
Allison majored in political science at St. Olaf, and later earned a certificate in real estate development from the University of Southern California and a certificate in construction management from California State University, Dominguez Hills. She led a highly successful career in the field of housing and community development for more than 40 years, and she retired from her role as the City of Pasadena’s First-Time Buyer and Rehab Program Coordinator.
In addition to this work, Allison volunteered her time to serve a number of community organizations. She was honored with the NAACP Image Award for Community Service and was elected as the first vice president for the Los Angeles NAACP in 1989. She currently serves on the St. Olaf Alumni Board and the boards of the Friendship Community Development Corporation and the Women’s Missionary Society of First African Methodist Episcopal (FAME) Pasadena. She’s also a past board member of both the Ross Program for Real Development at USC and the Community Advisory Board for Crenshaw Leimert Redevelopment Area.
Allison and Foley share more about their experiences at St. Olaf, their trailblazing role as women in male-dominated career fields, and the work that remains to fulfill the promise of Title IX in their Women’s History Month conversation with Pabón. Watch the full conversation below.