Bernice Sandler, And Why You Should Know Her Name

Bernice Sandler died this week at the age of 90. She is not a household name and my guess is most people don’t know who she is. That’s unfortunate because there are so many women in this country that owe so much to her strength and determination.

She was a schoolgirl in the 30’s and 40’s when she was told she couldn’t do some of the things that boys do, like be a crossing guard, fill an inkwell or operate a slide projector. When she was older and teaching part-time at the University of Maryland she was denied a full-time position because “you come on too strong.” Others suggested she was just a housewife who should be at home with sick children.

That past fueled her desire for change, which led to her becoming the face, voice and force behind the development, passage and implementation of Title IX, the civil rights law of 1972 that barred sex discrimination by educational institutions that received federal funding. It required that male and female students have equal access to admissions, resources and financial assistance, among other things.

To fully appreciate Dr Sanders, you have to go back to the dark ages of 1972, where many universities had limits on the number of female professors they would hire. Salaries for female faculty members were well behind men and while men’s varsity sports received millions of dollars in federal funding, female athletes held bake sales to pay for their uniforms, had no lockers and were forced to dress in their dorms.

Back in those dark ages of my lifetime, sex discrimination was not illegal in education. But Dr. Sandler found a reference to an unheralded executive order amended by President Johnson that barred organizations with federal contracts from discriminating on the basis of sex. She understood that most universities received federal funding so she went to work, beginning a class action lawsuit in 1970 on behalf of all women in higher education. She found that some schools had no woman faculty  and that women were often denied scholarships if they were married. She proceeded to file complaints against more than 250 institutions.

Title IX applies to every aspect of education, including enrollment, courses, financial assistance, housing and student services. But its impact has probably been most visible in college sports. Where resources for, and participation by women, lagged behind men prior to Title IX, participation exploded in the decades following implementation. Before Title IX, one in 27 girls participated in sports. By 2016, that number was two in five.

Sadly, after all these years, Title IX still has a long way to go before it eradicates decades of entrenched sexual discrimination. In Dr. Sandler’s own words, “I was extraordinarily naive. I believed that if we pressed Title IX it would only take a year or two for all the inequalities based on sex to be eliminated. After two years, I upped my estimate to five years, then to ten, then to twenty-five, until I finally realized that we were trying to change very strong patterns of behavior and belief, and that changes would take more than my lifetime to accomplish.”

Unfortunately, like all forms of discrimination and inequality, ignorance and distorted beliefs hinder real change.

Still, there are tens of thousands of women over the last forty-five years who owe so much to Dr. Sandler’s courage and determination. Women who have positions of power on college campuses, who have equal pay, who share the same educational and athletic resources as men, are all indebted to her sacrifices.

Bernice Sandler is a name and life that should be remembered by everyone.

48 thoughts on “Bernice Sandler, And Why You Should Know Her Name

  1. DailyMusings

    Thank you for sharing this woman’s story. I had never heard of her. I was shocked to see the year 1972- I expected you to be writing about something that had occurred in the 1940’s-50’s. The “you come on too strong” attitude still exists today- for a man it is called ambition, for a woman it is “unfeminine and pushy.” Things have still not changed.

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    1. George Post author

      I always knew about Title IX but forgot it was in the 70’s. Hard to believe it was still going g on them.
      Yes, unfortunately some things haven’t changed at all.

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  2. Lori

    This is a wonderful thing to learn. Thank you for sharing this information about Bernice Sandler. I can’t imagine what she had to go through, because of her (and people like her), I’ve not had to deal with such discriminations in my lifetime. I was alive in 1972, but too young (9) to know of the world’s fallibility at that time.

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  3. Lynn

    So glad you shared this George! I had not heard of Bernice Sandler or the incredible work of her lifetime. It is hard to believe that we continue to fight for these rights not only as women, but as human beings. May she rest in peace with the knowing that she made such a difference for so many!

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  4. In My Cluttered Attic

    I had no idea. A very informative post, George. What a truly remarkable lady. Her decision, to buck what was considered established norms, could not have been an easy challenge for her to take up. Real progress takes time. However, someone has to raise a voice for that kind of progress to begin, and generally, for that first voice to be actually heard that someone has to exhibit real courage. Bernice Sandler appears to have been a woman of real grit and determination.

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      1. In My Cluttered Attic

        Good to hear from you too, George. We’re doing well, George, and thank you for asking. I hope all is well with you and your family too and I just wanna wish you all nothing but the best for 2019 as well. Yes, I’d taken leave of my blog (my wife suggested it was my senses) which accounts for why I haven’t posted anything on my blog in a while. Got a little busy though—the suits came calling. So, since I was being offered money for my services—and WordPress feels I should pay them for the privilege to write on their platform—I felt (well, actually my wife felt) that maybe I should take the money from the suits instead. They were wearing ties, what else could I do? Anyway, I hope my blog will take me back? Especially, since I abandoned it for so long, and for something as trifle as … money—oh, and being abducted. Boy, these abductions are killing me, George. 😀

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  5. RetirementallyChallenged.com

    It is hard (yet not, sadly) to believe that such blatant discrimination was so recently the norm. I wish this great lady could have lived to see all the walls and ceilings removed, but I’m sure she understood the magnitude of the changes she unleased. Thanks for sharing this! She was a true feminist and hero.

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  6. Ilona Elliott

    It’s amazing to me when people comment that they got to where they are without the help of anyone, simply by working hard. This is rarely ever 100 % true. This post is such a great reminder of how much we owe to people like Bernice, the ones who strive to change the inequalities and break down the barriers that impede all of us. I’m sure that working hard was a part of the equation of most success stories, but as Barack Obama once pointed out, there are people who helped, whether we realized it or not, and that calls for a certain humility and gratitude from the rest of us as we consider our personal success stories. Great post.

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  7. Ann Coleman

    I didn’t realize she was the one who was behind Title IX! Even though complete equality is still a long way off, it is inspiring to realize that one person truly can make a difference. This post is a wonderful tribute to a person who did so much for women, and is a role model for us all!

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  8. candidkay

    I love how you’ve informed me in this post, George. But I’m also slightly embarrassed, feeling like this is something I should have known. I hope they put her in the history books . . .

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  9. timkeen40

    I think a lot of people of today take for granted the way things are without remembering the way things were. A lot of great men and women in our pasts have pushed the envelope, most of them knowing they would never reap the rewards of the work they were doing, but they did it anyway. Some of them died hoping that what they were doing would make the world a better place for those who followed.

    Great post!

    Tim

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  10. sportsattitudes

    Excellent post, George. I admit I was watching ESPN when one of their shows did a brief tribute to her. I didn’t recognize her name at all, but between that notice and your post I feel I’ve learned a lot about her…and am glad I did. Filled in a few “origin” blanks in history that I had on the subject.

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  11. roughwighting

    I owe a lot to Bernice Sandler, and my daughter and granddaughter owe her even more. Respect, thanks, recognition, love.
    But it’s hard to not be angry, knowing that I didn’t know about her. Because her name was buried in history, not HERstory, or more, OURstory. Thank YOU for bringing Bernice to our attention.

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    1. George Post author

      She was a special woman. What makes me angry is that after so many years, women are still fighting the same fight. Progress, yes. But it shouldn’t have to come in small steps.

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  12. Sorryless

    George,

    She was an extraordinary woman alright, and your post is a beautiful reminder that her great good work keeps moving forward. She was prescient in her estimation that the fight would outlast her life. Amazing that all this time later, there is still a chasm. But her legacy is that the chasm now has a bridge.

    Well done good sir!

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