This year marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which reads in part: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Essentially: if you let boys do it, you’d better let girls do it too… and while you’re at it, don’t just allow it, encourage equal participation.
Many longer and more thorough reports than mine have been written on the effects of Title IX and its current rate of success. (Last week’s Gazette had an interesting series, including several local accounts.) Though much of the popular focus has been on improvements in athletic opportunities, it’s worth remembering that Title IX applies to academics as well. However, our collections are best suited for an example of the growth of women’s sports in county schools, so until someone donates a nice 1973 shop-class project by their mother or aunt (hint, hint), let’s take a look at a sport uniform.
This cotton/nylon jersey was worn by a currently unknown female student at Northwood High School in Silver Spring, in the mid-late 1970s. Happily, our library has a large collection of local school yearbooks, and the yearbooks for Northwood in 1973, ‘74, ‘75, ‘76 and ‘78 (sorry, we’re missing a year) give us some clues as to this jersey’s history. (A full-on study of athletics at any given school requires more sources than just the yearbooks, of course, but I was mostly looking for pictures of uniforms; and hey, yearbooks are fun.)
Northwood High School opened in 1956, closed in 1985 due to declining student-age population in the area, then reopened in 2004 when the neighborhood once again required it. In the 1970s, the school colors were black and red, and the team name was the Indians. (Today the colors are the same, but the school mascot is a Gladiator.) The Arrowhead yearbook gives a hint of the sports available for girls each year*. In 1973, girls are shown participating only in swimming and gymnastics, though other teams (perhaps intramural) probably existed. Only a year later, though, there are pages for girls’ tennis, field hockey, basketball, volleyball and softball. The young women on the basketball teams (just one team at first, later the Junior Varsity team) in 1974-1978 are wearing jerseys like this one; the style also shows up on a softball player in the only photo of that sport included in 1974; by 1983 other uniforms have replaced it. Two #44s appear in the books, whom I won’t call out in case they don’t want their names randomly appearing on the internet (although, hey ladies, if this is your jersey please let me know!).
I didn’t find any references specifically to Title IX, but the tone of the mid 1970s books does give a sense that yes, there is a new interest in, and attitude toward, girls’ athletics. In 1976 that attitude (perhaps because of that year‘s editor?) is particularly evident. That year, the girls’ basketball team had switched from a female to a male coach, a point which is emphasized in the yearbook: “He proved that men too can make good coaches for an all-girls’ sport involving skill and talent.” The cross-country page features this headline: “Cross Country Team Includes Girl Runners” and, only a few sentences after informing us that one of those ‘girl runners’ was a state champion, the author points out that the (male) coach “expressed his lack of male chauvinism by insisting that the girls receive the credit due them.” 2012 gives that a sarcastic “gee, thanks,” but depending on the school’s culture at that time, such an “insistence” may have been highly progressive. Happily, by 1978 the novelty of serious girls’ teams seems to have worn off, at least in the Arrowhead.
*Comparing the numbers and types of sports available to the county’s public school students since the late 19th century is actually quite interesting, and there were many girls’ teams in the early-mid 20th century… but that will have to wait for a later article.