News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 29, 2013

Before there was Title IX: Speakers recount days when women were denied sports

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana State University freshman Dominique Hudson played softball and basketball while she attended high school in Indianapolis.

But without people like Millie Lemen, who  fought for Title IX, Hudson might not have had those same opportunities, she realized after hearing Lemen speak Thursday on “Life Before Title IX.”

Lemen, an ISU professor emerita, was chairwoman of the Women’s Physical Education department for 10 years. She played basketball, volleyball and field hockey at Hanover College, graduating in 1952.

Also speaking was Jolynn Kuhlman, who is in her 26th year of teaching in ISU’s department of Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport. She is coordinator of the master’s program in coaching and the undergraduate coaching minor. As an undergrad at Penn State, she played softball and was on the women’s rifle team.

The women spoke at Cunningham Library as part of Women’s History Month.

Lemen said when she started teaching at Goshen High School in 1952, “I was not allowed to have a girls basketball team. … The boys didn’t want the girls to dilute the program.”

Back then, the Indiana High School Athletic Association didn’t sanction girls sports.

Lemen and Kuhlman provided a historical perspective going back to the 1880s, when physical activity was not encouraged for women because it was thought it could do “permanent harm” to their bodies and hurt their ability to have children, Kuhlman said.

Even when women were allowed to do some low-key sports activities at some colleges, the amount of clothing they had to wear — long dresses, bustles and maybe corsets — limited their movement.

Some parents feared athletics would make their daughters masculine.

When women began playing some organized basketball at the college level in the early 1900s, they were not allowed to jump or dribble the ball, Kuhlman said.

In an interview, Kuhlman talked about the significant impact of Title IX, part of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which gives women athletes the right to equal opportunity in sports in educational institutions that receive federal funds, from elementary schools to colleges and universities.  

In the 1960s, a lot of schools at the university level had no sports for women, Kuhlman said. When she went to Penn State, “We did have sports prior to 1972, but on a very limited basis.”

Title IX “has opened up so many opportunities for women,” including career fields, leadership and coaching opportunities as well as the ability to develop higher levels of self confidence and self-esteem.

Some are becoming professional athletes, “but that’s still quite limited yet,” Kuhlman said.

Challenges remain, she said. “There is always someone opposed to it because of the way it’s often managed in universities. When money is tight, and they have to cut things, lots of times they cut sports programs,” she said.

Sometimes it’s men’s sports program that are cut “because they can’t afford to cut women’s programs because they don’t have that many,” Kuhlman said.

Then, some men will blame Title IX, she said. “Instead of really managing the resources you have, lots of time athletic directors take the easy way out and just cut a program,” she said. “Title IX gets a bad rap that way.”  

  Lemen said that without Title IX, “I doubt we’d have women’s sport.” Years ago, she worked to establish the AIAW, the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.

Even in the early days of Title IX, Lemen described how women’s programs received far less funding then men’s. Women coaches weren’t paid; there was barely enough money for officials and barely enough money to travel, she recalled.

Kuhlman told the audience of about 40, especially the women, to appreciate people like Lemen who fought for Title IX and the many athletic opportunities they have today.

“These women battled and battled and battled. Some of them lost jobs over it, some of them got gray hair over it,” Kuhlman said.

She also told them to “never, ever let anybody take Title IX away from you. Because it could go back just as fast as it came,” Kuhlman said.

Hudson, the ISU student who sat in the audience, said she was “really shocked” by the lack of opportunities women had years ago. She said it made her appreciate the battles fought by people like Lemen.

Melissa Bood, ISU sophomore and a social studies science education major, said “I didn’t realize it was that bad back them.”

Commenting on some of the historical pictures she saw during the presentation, she said, “The fact they had to wear all that extra clothing, especially that woman running track in that narrow dress, that just seemed insane to me.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or