Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark federal legislation that prohibits discrimination based on gender at American educational institutions. The measure has had far-reaching impact at primary and secondary schools, colleges, and universities throughout the nation. Perhaps one area most visibly affected was intercollegiate sports, particularly in regard to disparities in funding and support for teams, coaches, players, and facilities. The Gazette recently spoke to Erin McDermott, the John D. Nichols Family ’53 Director of Athletics, and Patricia W. Henry, retired senior associate director of athletics, about the effect Title IX had on the participation of women at Harvard and elsewhere. The interview was edited for clarity and length.
Erin McDermott and Pat Henry
GAZETTE: Erin, you and Title IX both celebrate your 50th year in 2022. How has the law affected your life and career as an athlete and administrator?
MCDERMOTT: Beginning at age 5 when I started athletic activities with my older brother, I followed his lead, and it never occurred to me that these were things that I wouldn’t have been able to do as a girl. I never heard those two words — Title IX — until my sophomore year playing basketball at Hofstra when the Senior Woman Administrator (SWA) Cindy Lewis invited a speaker to talk with all female athletes.
The women’s teams shared a large locker room space in the basement of the main building, and we had some part-time coaches versus full-time coaches for the men. Women’s basketball players were not given the same access to summer classes as the men’s team. So that’s when I started to see that there were differences in our experiences. It was truly this moment of clarity, and in some ways, anger, for me. I scheduled a meeting with the athletic director at the time and talked with him about where I felt Hofstra needed to do better. When I graduated, I walked across the stage, shook our president’s hand, and said to him, “You need to take care of your female student athletes.”
It was the beginning of my feeling that I had a responsibility to be part of the solution. And clearly Title IX paved the way for me and other women to be able to choose this as a profession.
GAZETTE: Pat, you served as a senior administrator for Harvard Athletics from 1980 to 2019. How did you see Title IX come alive during your time at Harvard?
HENRY: Harvard and the Ivy League were early leaders in offering athletic programs for women. Title IX was passed in 1972, and in 1975, Harvard assumed responsibility for eight women’s sports that Radcliffe had previously administered, beginning as far back as the late 19th century. By the time I got here, there were 16 sports for women, and today there are 21. In 1975, we had about 200 women athletes, and today we have over 500.