|Women's Athletics Keep Pace
Women's athletics at Northwestern got off to a rather inauspicious beginning. In an early school catalog it was mandated that "every young lady is required to walk a half an hour a day."
In the early years women participated in a variety of intramural sports and dressed in long-sleeved, high-neck blouses and ankle-length skirts. They vied with male students for use of limited sports facilities.
In 1911 the Women's Athletic Association (WAA) was founded and the following year, by a vote of the student body, all women became members. To raise money they initiated the popular Sandwich Days. In spring 1912 a minstrel show was held at Ravinia Park Theater and the proceeds, $111, went to the association.
Without intercollegiate competition as an outlet, many Northwestern women took to participating in Olympic sports. Sybil Bauer (S26) won a gold medal in swimming at the 1924 Paris games. Before entering Northwestern, Betty Robinson Schwartz (SESP34) became the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in track when she won the 100-meter dash in 1928 in Amsterdam. Robinson and schoolmate Annette Rogers Kelly (SESP37) were members of the victorious 400-meter relay team at the Berlin Games in 1936. Jacquelyn Klein Fie (SESP59) was a member of the U.S. gymnastics team at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, and returned to Australia for the 2000 Games as president of the Women's Technical Committee of the International Gymnastic Federation.
Despite these successes, women's athletics ran a distant second to the men's programs until Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 banned sex discrimination in schools in academics and athletics. Women athletes now had to receive benefits and opportunities equivalent though not identical to those enjoyed by male athletes.
As time passed, Northwestern women began competing in a range of intercollegiate sports including basketball, cross-country, fencing, field hockey, golf, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis and volleyball. During the 1981-82 season the Big Ten became one of the first athletic conferences to sponsor conference championships for women.
"Television and Title IX are the most dramatic things that have impacted athletics in the last half century," says Ken Kraft, senior associate athletic director. "Title IX makes all the sense in the world. Northwestern started off quite well, and overall it's been healthy."
"There's no question that if Title IX hadn't come along when it did I wouldn't have had the opportunities I had," says Diane Donnelly Stone (S87), an All-American singles and doubles tennis player. "I might have been able to play tennis at a small local college near my home in Michigan, but I never would have had a chance to get a scholarship and compete on the level that I did."
The results of Title IX can be seen on the court, in the pool and on the field. And they're reflected in the Daily Northwestern's rankings of the top 10 athletes of the century, which listed three women: field hockey's Gretchen Scheuermann (SESP96), softball pitcher Lisa Ishikawa Sliwa (McC88) and basketball standout Auncha Browne Sanders (S85).
"I think all athletes, men and women, bring the same intensity to what they're doing, in all sports," Donnelley Stone says. "There may be some degree of difference to the spectators between us and the revenue sports, but ... I felt as competitive as anyone when I played."