Somewhere Amelia Bloomer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony were smiling last Sunday during the NCAA Division 1 women’s lacrosse tournament final. It was played before a sellout crowd of nearly 10,000 at Johns Hopkins’ Homewood Field, where the University of Maryland prevailed 12-10 over Boston College. It was an exquisite display of athleticism with no asterisk required for gender. Everything was there: speed, endurance, aggression, teamwork, impressive individual talent, strategic brilliance, athlete joy and spectator enthusiasm.
When Bloomer introduced Stanton to Anthony at Seneca Falls in 1851, their wildest collective imaginings couldn’t have conceived that their legacies would eventually produce a sporting spectacle like the talent-laden LAX title game. The women’s rights movement’s early steps engendered widespread ridicule in those days when Bloomer began promoting loose-fitting pants for women — eventually called “bloomers” although Amelia wasn’t their inventor. Stanton quickly adopted the fashion.
Ever since, for every two steps forward, women’s quest for equality has taken one step backward. Even the Civil Rights Act of 1964 contained exceptions for women that necessitated further action: the law prohibited sexual discrimination in employment and public accommodations but not in educational institutions.
Democratic Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana had long fumed over the summary dismissal of his brilliant wife Marvella’s dream to attend the University of Virginia. In 1951 her application was rejected with a terse response: “Women need not apply.”
Consequently, in 1971 Mr. Bayh, along with Congresswoman Patsy Mink, wrote and sponsored Title IX of the Higher Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in education and athletics. President Nixon signed it into law in 1972.
The male sports world reacted angrily to the bill. Mr. Bayh recalled the urgent visit he received in Washington from coach “Bear” Bryant of Alabama and athletic director “Moose” Krause of Notre Dame, who claimed the law would destroy their storied football programs. Obviously it did not.
Sunday’s championship game performances by Maryland’s cobra-quick goalie Megan Taylor, Boston College’s national player-of-the-year candidate Sam Apuzzo, Hall-of-Fame Maryland coach Cathy Reese, B.C. coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein and highly talented supporting casts tempt one to conclude that women have arrived.
But as with any issue of equality facing humankind, the road never reaches a final destination. Issues keep evolving and the roads to equality require perpetual navigation. As their gender’s journey continues, kudos to the women of Maryland and Boston College for a milestone moment.