How Title IX Works

The Origin of Title IX

Patsy Mink of Hawaii Patsy Mink of Hawaii
The late U.S. Democratic Congresswoman Patsy Mink of Hawaii introduced the legislation we now know as Title IX in 1972. Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

At Maui High School in the early 1940s, Patsy Mink, the woman who would become known as "the mother of Title IX" couldn't play full-court basketball because back then everybody was sure that running that much would be too hard on girls [source: Chan]. When Mink graduated from the University of Hawaii, she applied to 12 different med schools and was rejected by all of them even though her qualifications met or exceeded those of her male peers who were admitted. So, she went to law school instead.

But her law degree provided no golden key to a career. Because she was married, no law firm would hire her. Her only option, it seemed, was to start her own firm. But in order to do so, she first had to pass the bar exam. The officials in charge said that only residents of Hawaii could take the bar. Mink protested that she had been born and raised in the state — of course she was a resident. But legally, it turned out, she wasn't. Her husband was from out-of-state and his non-resident status was automatically conferred to her. Mink fought this ruling hard and was finally granted permission to take the exam. She passed it, becoming the first Japanese-American woman lawyer in Hawaii's history [source: Chan].

Mink wasn't done breaking ground. She was elected to the Hawaiian House of Representatives and later the state's senate from 1962 to 1964 [source: U.S. House of Representatives]. In 1964, Mink decided to run for U.S. Congress. Because she refused to make backroom deals and concessions, she couldn't get the Hawaiian Democratic party machine behind her [source: U.S. House of Representatives].

So, she ran a grass-roots campaign, raising money with small donations from individual voters. She won her seat, becoming the first woman of color in the U.S. House of Representatives [source: U.S. House of Representatives]. It was the beginning of a long, illustrious career.

In 1972, as Congress was drawing up an act consisting of large scale education amendments, Mink and her colleague Edith Green introduced a subset of the act, which in legislative parlance is known as a "title" [source: Legal Information Institute]. Title IX, as it would be named, is an example of civil rights legislation and can be seen in the larger context of the civil rights movement of that era. Title IX is about a page long and it begins with these words: "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" [source: U.S. Dept. of Labor].

When Richard Nixon signed the Education Amendments of 1972 into law, he accompanied the occasion with a statement in which he outlined what he considered to be the important elements of the act. He talked approvingly about changes to funding mechanisms that would improve research facilities, he disagreed with Congress's approach to the hot-button issue of bussing in the post-segregation era. Nowhere in the statement does he mention Title IX [source: Woolley and Peters].

It was a remarkably inauspicious beginning for an education law that Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of Oklahoma would later say was among the most significant in the history of the country [source: Winslow]. In fact, for many people, Title IX would remain an obscure legislative footnote for an entire year. Then, in 1973, Billie Jean King made it international news.