Reflections on Title IX

 

Last updated 3/16/2022 at Noon



As I write on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2022, during Women’s History Month, I recall the letter that Paul Bennett contributed to the February 16 issue of The Nugget: “The impact of Title IX.” This law was written and signed by President Richard Nixon in 1972. Basically, Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or other education program that receives funding from the federal government.

Paul’s letter triggered memories of times in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Now 77 years old, I realize that as a high school girl more than 60 years ago, I experienced gender discrimination in several instances that would surprise young women today. They may not realize that Title IX did not exist until just 50 years ago. The discrimination did not disturb me greatly at the time, but looking back, that inequity did limit my opportunities in sports and in an outdoor education program.

I recall two experiences in particular.

At about age 13, I became a strong swimmer with a summertime coach at an outdoor pool who, in the winter months, coached the high school boys team in an Olympic-size indoor swimming pool.

My teammates and I had no opportunity to train or compete except in the summer.

Luckily, a friend’s mother recognized that enough young women in our small Minnesota community showed the desire and ability to swim in other months of the year.

She became our untrained coach after managing to rent a small swimming pool in a local hospital for one afternoon a week.

Our new girls team competed with larger teams that trained four days a week in big pools in the Minneapolis suburbs.

I swam freestyle on a relay that won first in the state, beating a record! My teammates won blue ribbons in other races too.

And we could only practice a couple hours a week in a dinky pool!

Then, in summer 1961 before my senior year, I prepared meals in the outdoor kitchen of the first Outward Bound School (OBS) in the USA as it was being set up in the Colorado Rockies.

High school boys dug ditches and cut down aspen trees, to clear ground for buildings.

I had my own tent and got up before dawn to build the fires and cook breakfast.

But once a week the young men and I were guinea pigs for Outward Bound’s upcoming program.

We all learned how to rock climb and rappel down cliffs, but I was the only one that was willing to be the victim on a simulated rescue operation called a “Tyrolean traverse.” This meant being tied on a stretcher and sent on a rope from one side of a cliff, over a waterfall, to the other side.

Photos were taken for the first OBS pamphlet of 1962, so my ankle was wrapped as if it were broken.

I also wore a stocking cap to cover my long hair, because Outward Bound was designed for guys only! The first women to attend Colorado Outward Bound were not accepted until later in the 1960s when new Peace Corps volunteers going to the Himalayas needed special training.

In 2012 I was invited to attend the 50th anniversary of Colorado Outward Bound held in Leadville, Colorado, where a history room featured framed photos of that ’61 crew out backpacking, including me. But because I was wearing a cap and half-hidden behind the boys, my gender is not obvious. At that celebration five decades later, I was given a special Outward Bound watch! Later when visiting the first base camp where I was a cook in 1962, I was thrilled to welcome students back after two weeks of rugged backpacking at high altitude. Over half of them were exuberant coeds.

 

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