Joan Selma Hult, who played pivotal role in rollout of Title IX and establishment of women’s college sports, dies

Joan Selma Hult was a professor of kinesiology at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Joan Selma Hult, a legend in women’s intercollegiate sports and a University of Maryland, College Park professor emerita, died Aug. 15 at the University of Maryland Laurel Medical Center. She was 89.

Doctors said she died of a serious infection that built upon existing medical issues, according to Karen Hult, Ms. Hult’s niece. Due to her dementia, Ms. Hult had been living in memory care at the Collington retirement community in Mitchellville.


Though her name is spelled Joan, those close to Ms. Hult called her “Jo-Ann.”

“She always had interesting things to share. She was very bright,” said Dorothy “Dottie” McKnight, who worked with Ms. Hult at the University of Maryland and ran Athletic and Sports Consultants for over 20 years. “I suspect anyone who played for a team she coached, she would be remembered for that because she taught them to play. And to win.”


Ms. Hult was born Jan. 29, 1933, to Marie Wise Hult, a librarian and church secretary, and Swan “S” Albert Hult, a delivery driver for Nabisco, in Gary, Indiana.

Ms. Hult had two siblings, an older sister, Phyllis Marie Hult, and an older brother, Robert Julius Hult. Ms. Hult had another older sister, Alberta Mae Hult, who died before the rest of her siblings were born.

Ms. Hult’s brother taught her to read and invited her to play basketball with him and the neighborhood boys. Ms. Hult went on to play and coach basketball as well as officiate women’s college basketball games. She also coached college tennis and volleyball.

Interest in movement and physical education would lead her to play an integral role in the rollout of Title IX, a civil rights amendment that prevents sex-based discrimination in any school or education program that receives federal funding. The law is commonly associated with the protection of women’s college sports.

After graduating from Tolleston High School, Ms. Hult started college at the Gary extension of Indiana University. She graduated from Indiana University Bloomington in 1954. She received her master’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1958 and her Ph.D. in sports history from the University of Southern California in 1967, according to the University of Maryland.

After obtaining her Ph.D., Ms. Hult became a professor of kinesiology at the University of Maryland. According to the university, Ms. Hult researched women in sports, including “governance, the Olympics, basketball, and Title IX issues.” She co-wrote “A Century of Women’s Basketball: From Frailty to Final Four,” which explores the evolution of competitive basketball.

Each year, the University of Maryland hosts the Hult Women’s History Symposium. Additionally, Ms. Hult received the School of Public Health Anita Aldrich Distinguished Alumni Award and the School of Public Health W.W. Patty Distinguished Alumni Award from Indiana University.

Before retiring in Mitchellville, she lived in Greenbelt.


Ms. Hult maintained an interest in sports, and women’s involvement in sports, throughout her life. During her time teaching at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, she founded the women’s intercollegiate athletic program, growing it from three to nine teams in 10 years. She coached every sport at Concordia except gymnastics, according to the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. She was inducted into Concordia’s Hall of Fame in 1989.

In a 2009 news release from Indiana University, Ms. Hult is noted as being “widely recognized for her diligent behind-the-scenes work in Washington, D.C., for the passage of Title IX,” which was signed into law in 1972 by President Richard Nixon.

Ms. Hult worked with Athletic and Sports Consultants, a group with the primary objective of helping schools and colleges implement Title IX in the years after it was passed. She contributed historical research on physical education and muscle mass, presenting a paper that argued for the inclusion of both men’s and women’s teams, rather than unisex teams, on the basis of muscle mass differences.

Regulations adopted by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to implement Title IX required equality in areas such as equipment, schedules, travel allowances, locker room space and coaches’ salaries, according to New York Times reporting at the time. In 1979, the NCAA adopted a resolution opposing the Title IX compliance requirements, according to Associated Press reporting. The NCAA also challenged the legality of Title IX in 1976, but the lawsuit was dismissed.


As a result of Title IX, scholarships were offered in record numbers, women were scouted and more spectators attended women’s events. But in the years after Title IX was passed, sex-based discrimination persisted in school sports programs amid progress.

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Ms. Hult was a member of the executive board of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, then the women’s equivalent of the NCAA founded in 1971, and served on the U.S. Olympic Committee.

In addition to advocating for women in sports, Ms. Hult was active in general and spent time skiing and mountain climbing. She was also heavily involved in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. She took a special interest in the social justice aspect of the church’s mission, especially as it related to racial equity and women’s rights.


“She was fun. She was vibrant. She was always interested in what my brother and I were doing,” Karen Hult said. “[She] cared a lot about family but took difficult things seriously and helped people through them.”

Ms. Hult is survived by her niece, Karen Marie Hult, who lives with her husband, Charles Eliot Walcott in Blacksburg, Virginia. She is also survived by her nephew, David Robert Hult, who lives with his wife, Lisa Hult in Lake Ozark, Missouri, and their adult children, Chad Hult and Dennis Hult. She outlived her great-niece Anne-Marie Hult. Ms. Hult was never married and had no children.

There will be a public memorial at Hope Lutheran Church in College Park on Sept. 27 at 10 a.m. Ms. Hult will be buried in La Porte, Indiana.