University of Kentucky Women: Title IX

Early Kentucky State Women's Basketball Team

Early Kentucky State Women's Basketball Team, 1903.

Equality - In all Things?

In 1972, The U.S. passed the Education Amendment Act, a comprehensive law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. This act would have enormous repercussions for female empowerment, leadership, and opportunities both during their college years and after graduation. But the fight for equal funding was not easy. 

Female UK Basketball Player

University of Kentucky female basketball player, 1920

The University of Kentucky –prior to Title IX - had a long history of female sports. In 1903, the school fielded many intramural sports, including swimming, archery, rifle, hockey, volleyball, and basketball. But there was a limit to female involvement in sports. In 1924, the women's basketball team and others were disbanded because according to President McVey: “Women’s basketball was too strenuous for females.” 

Women's Liberation

"Women's Liberation," The Kentucky Kernel, November 2, 1970.

Title IX, at the time of its passing, was controversial. But Title IX only demanded that universities who accepted federal assistance and funds uphold our nation’s treasured values, including the right to not be discriminated against because of gender. But just because UK women had the same legal rights to athletics as men, accessing that right was not easy.  Women struggled to find their place in the male-dominated arena of college athletics. Just how athletic could women be?

As the 20th century progressed and it was understood sports were not damaging to female anatomy (as it was believed in the early 1900s), the tension between sport and femininity still remained.   Societal conceptions of female strength and beauty would need to undergo serious change to fully accept female college athletes.

UK female swimmers

UK female swimmers, 1981 Kentuckian, Vol. 87.

The 1960s Women’s liberation movement would do much to help bring on the societal changes necessary to not only allow, but encourage women to strive for their best in sport and retain their femininity or at least acceptance among their peers.

In 1981, the University of Kentucky's women’s swim team filed a discrimination lawsuit with the federal Office of Civil Rights against the university.  The suit was filed because despite the fact that both a men's and women's swim team existed, the women's swim team was kept as a club team while the men had varsity status.  Being designated as a club team meant that the women did not have access to a paid coach, practice time, or a budget or more than $300 while the men’s team had two paid coaches, practice time available on campus, and a budget in the tens of thousands including scholarships available to male swimmers.

Valerie Still and Terry Hall

Terry Hall congratulates UK Lady Kat Valerie Still, 1982.

In the interim of the swim team discrimination suit and the ongoing investigation it brought on, UK Basketball player Lady Kat Valerie Still broke the record for length of time taken to score 1,000 points - beating all former male basketball players. And in 1983, the same year UK was found out of compliance with Title IX by the Federal Office of Civil Rights as a result of the women's swim team's complaint, female athletes pulled in more titles and victories than men.

Clearly, while fighting for their legal rights, UK female atheletes were also proving their worth in the arena of sport.

Mernaugh and Swim Team

Lexington Herald, June 8, 1982

After a thorough investigation in 1983, the federal Office of Civil Rights found UK out of compliance with Title IX for denying its female athletes equal opportunities – particularly in allocation of coaches and travelling funds, required by federal legislation.

Play to Win

Women’s Sports at UK: Play to Win, but bring your lipstick

The fight for equal opportunity in sports reveals much about American society and how long real change takes.  Federal legislation is not enough to ensure equality of opportunity for women in the workplace, university, or playing field.  Legislation is but a tool women can use to fight for change against an unwilling structure.

University of Kentucky Women: Title IX