June 23, 2022 is the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, the landmark federal bill designed to guarantee equal opportunities for women in education and sports by prohibiting sex-based discrimination in federally funded schools. Title IX was passed as part of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, U.S. federal legislation under public law 92-318. The bill was co-authored and introduced to Congress by Senator Birch Bayh and Representative Patsy Mink. Mink was inspired to co-author such a bill after having experienced sex discrimination when she was denied entry to medical school. Instead, she entered law school and went on to become the first Asian American and first woman of color elected to Congress. During her time in the House of Representatives, she sponsored and authored numerous legislative proposals meant to improve the lives of women and historically marginalized communities.
While Title IX was designed to extend civil rights and anti-discrimination protection to girls and women in all aspects of education, sports are where the law had its biggest impact. The act dramatically increased the number of women playing sports. Before Title IX, 1 in 27 girls played sports. Today that number is 2 in 5. There is no doubt that all women who participate in sports today have been directly affected by the passage of Title IX, but women’s participation in sports did not start in 1972. Those who were competing prior to the passage of Title IX faced barriers and hardships in order to participate in sports.
Join us as we celebrate the anniversary of the passage of Title IX with footage found in our motion picture holdings of several sporting legends whose careers began before the passage of Title IX. Their achievements helped to normalize the idea of female athletes and highlight the need for equal treatment.
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) was formed in 1943 at the height of World War II with the intention to help offset possible revenue loss and keep baseball in the public eye. The league was in operation from 1943 to 1954 and is considered the precursor of women’s professional league sports in the United States. The league grew from 4 teams to 10 with attendance peaking at over 900,000 and gave some 600 female athletes the opportunity to play professional baseball for the first time. The Rockford Peaches, a founding member of the league, won a record four championships and are the most well-known team thanks to the 1992 film A League of Their Own.
The following clip from Universal Newsreel highlights the 1949 Kenosha Comets. The Comets were a founding member of the league and competed for 9 seasons. That year, the team finished fourth (58-55) in the league and lost to the Muskegon Lassies in two games during their first round of post-season action. While the footage is silent, the production records do include the original narrative for the clip. It lists the players featured in the footage as Joan Holderness, Helen Candaele, Margaret Villa, Jean Cione and Dorothy Naum. The original narrative for the clip as well as a game program can be viewed in the slide show below.
To view a full size image of the production files for Universal News Volume 22, Release 280 click on each image above.
Althea Gibson, known as the Queen of Tennis, is considered to be one of the greatest tennis players to have ever lived. Despite limited opportunities for Black Americans to play tennis, Gibson eventually helped integrate national and international tennis and became the first Black American to win a Grand Slam title and the first to compete at the U.S. National Championships. In total during her career, Gibson won 56 national and international singles and doubles titles.
The following clip from record 306-LSS-1654 features Gibson playing Darlene Hard in the 1958 US National Championships. Gibson defeated Hard 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 in the final to win the women’s singles tennis title. In 1958 alone, Gibson defended her Wimbledon and US National singles titles, won her third straight Wimbledon doubles championship, was ranked number one woman in the world and in the United States, and was named Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press. In that same year, she also became the first Black woman to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Mildred “Babe” Didrikson
Regarded as one of the greatest athletes of all time, Mildred “Babe” Didrikson was an Olympic gold medalist, world record holder and multi-sport athlete. Didrikson played baseball, basketball, softball, was an expert diver, bowler, and boxer. She is most well known for her tack and field accolades and contributions to golf. At the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, she set four world records, winning two gold medals and one silver medal. She is still the only track and field athlete to win individual Olympic medals in separate running, throwing and jumping events. After the Olympics, Didrikson began golfing and quickly became America’s first female golf celebrity. In her lifetime, she won 82 golf tournaments and was the first American woman to win the British Women’s Amateur Golf Tournament. Before her untimely death in 1956, Didrikson and Patty Berg co-founded the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA).
Babe Didrikson appears in NARA’s film holdings in a Department of Defense newsreel series titled America’s Newsreel Album. The clip, produced sometime after her death in 1956, highlights the accomplishments and personal life of Didrikson and shows her participating in several sports including track and field, boxing and golf.
Originally an aerospace engineer, Janet Guthrie began racing part time in 1963 on the Sports Car Club of America circuit. By 1972, she was racing full time and in 1977 she became the first woman to qualify and compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500. In her four seasons of competition in NASCAR, Guthrie competed in 33 races with her top finish coming in 1977 when she placed 6th at Bristol Motor Speedway. Her finish is the best by a woman in a top-tier NASCAR race, currently tied with Danica Patrick. Guthrie was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Sports Car Club of America Hall of Fame in 2018.
Guthrie was interviewed in 1977 for a U.S. Information Agency production series titled Vision USA. The following clip was taken from Vision USA number 64 and shows Guthrie competing in the Delaware 500 at Dover International Speedway. She ended the race in 11th place, completing 483 laps.
World-record-holder, Olympic champion, and international sports icon, Wilma Rudolph competed in her first Olympic Games while still in high school in 1956. As a child she was told she may never walk again after bouts with polio and scarlet fever. She was able to fully recover and at the age of 16 she was the youngest member of the 1956 U.S. Olympic team. At the 1956 Summer Olympics, Rudolph competed in the 200-meter dash and won a bronze medal in the 4×100-meter relay. Four years later at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy, Rudolph won three gold medals becoming the first Black American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympic Games. Known as the “fastest woman in the world” Rudolph won the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year award in 1961. She was inducted into the US Olympic Hall of Fame and became the first woman to receive the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Silver Anniversary Award.
Wilma Rudolph’s record breaking 1960 Olympics was covered by newsreels across the country. Universal Newsreel includes several stories on Rudolph following her during her time in Rome. The below clip, taken from Universal Newsreel Volume 33, Release 73, shows the women’s 200 meter dash finals with Rudolph winning her second of three gold medals.
Kathrine Switzer and Bobbi Gibb
Until 1972, women were prohibited from running the Boston Marathon. This, however did not stop several women from trying. Kathrine Switzer and Bobbi Gibb both ran in the marathon prior to 1972. In 1966, Bobbi Gibb became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in an unofficial capacity. She did not officially enter the race and instead joined the starting field shortly after the race started. Gibb finished the race in 3:21:40 and placed 126th overall. In 1967, Katherine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as an officially registered competitor. During the race, race manager Jock Semple tried to stop Switzer from running but was unsuccessful in his attempt and she continued on finishing with a time of 4:20:00.
Universal Newsreel Volume 40, Release 33 covers the 1967 Boston Marathon. While the official release sheet for the newsreel does not provide any information about Switzer’s participation, the producers did include a clip of her running.
All of the athletes discussed here faced barriers in their careers because of their gender. They received less formal sports training, were paid less or nothing at all for their talents and were often blocked from competing. But because they managed to beat the odds against them and continued to compete, they helped normalize women’s participation in sports. And while the passage of Title IX helped to boost the growth of women’s sports in America by guaranteeing equal opportunity for women to participate in sports at federally funded schools, it is important to remember that female athletes still face barriers in their careers. Title IX does not guarantee equal spending and women’s athletic budgets and scholarship funds still lag far behind men’s.
To learn more about Title IX, related programs and online resources, please visit the National Archives webpage. Additional catalog resources highlighting female athletes can be found in NARA’s motion picture and still picture holdings as well as additional footage of Althea Gibson, Babe Didrikson, Janet Guthrie, and Wilma Rudolph. Additional blog posts featuring female athletes can be found here: Title IX and Women’s Soccer in NARA’s Film Holdings, This Week in Universal News: The All-American Girl Baseball League, 1951, The U.S. Forest Service Presents: Winter Olympics, Spotlight: Universal Newsreel Highlights Female Baseball Players, and This Week in Universal News: Tennis Legends Wills and Wightman Take on the Boehm Twins, 1931.