Varnes: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Title IX


Photo courtesy of Mitch Varnes

The Daily is putting out a special issue dedicated to the 50th anniversary of Title IX to honor former student-athletes, journalists, the women who paved the way and everyone in between.

Charlotte Varnes, Sports Editor

Each spring growing up, my family made the short, 25-minute drive to Melbourne, Florida’s cathedral of baseball: Space Coast Stadium. 

Living so close to the stadium, we had the opportunity to watch the Washington Nationals prepare for the regular season every year until they moved to a new venue in 2017. While we lived about 900 miles from Washington, D.C, we proudly donned the red, white and blue and viewed the Nationals as our hometown team.

Years later, the little details stick with me. The excitement of getting Dippin’ Dots. Eagerly waiting at the practice fields, hoping I’d manage to get Bryce Harper’s autograph. The Irish music played for Daniel Murphy’s at-bats.

At that time in my childhood, I didn’t foresee a career in sports journalism. But there was something about the magic of the ballpark and being in close proximity to greats like Harper, Max Scherzer and Trea Turner that drew me into the world of sports. 

I never felt like I was treated differently as a fan because I was a young girl, and that feeling extended to my own athletic pursuits, trying everything from soccer to track and field to lacrosse. 

I don’t think I had a full grasp of just how swiftly conditions have changed for women in sports until I took Intro to Sports Writing with Prof. Melissa Isaacson in spring 2022. While the class covered a wide range of topics, we frequently discussed the 50th anniversary of Title IX, and our primary assignment in the class was a Title IX-focused feature story. 

Before then, Title IX was just a phrase I vaguely associated with sports. For myself, and many other college students, Title IX is better known for its role in giving survivors of sexual violence and harassment a process to file complaints and seek justice. Little did I know, Title IX also dramatically changed the landscape for women’s sports in the United States.

When Title IX was signed into law in 1972, few had any idea how transformational it would be for women’s athletics. The legislation doesn’t say a word about sports — it simply bans sex-based educational discrimination at educational institutions and programs receiving federal funding. University athletics programs were lumped into this and greater athletic opportunities followed. 

In 1972, just 300,000 girls and women played high school and college sports. By 2012, that number had risen to more than 3 million. Title IX was key to this, mandating that universities grant women greater athletic opportunities.

Sitting in Isaacson’s class, I was blown away by the diversity of women’s sports experiences in the post-Title IX era. I spoke with former Northwestern student-athletes and coaches who paved the way for the growth of women’s sports in the early 1980s, and I couldn’t believe how far things had come in just over 40 years.

In the back of my head, I knew I wanted to be The Daily’s sports editor in the fall. I also knew that, if I was editor, I would dedicate an issue to the 50th anniversary of Title IX at NU. 

When I was named sports editor in August, I was excited to follow through on this project. Throughout the fall, my staff and I have developed story ideas, spoken with countless women alumni and sifted through the University archives. 

This issue is a product of that work. It’s been an overwhelming undertaking, but I’m proud of the way my staff and I have worked to bring these women’s stories to light. 

There are so many former and current student-athletes beyond those highlighted in this issue who have paved the way for the success enjoyed by Northwestern women student-athletes today. I hope you keep the hard work of all these women in mind when reading this issue.

Thank you to everyone who spoke with us for this issue and allowed us to share your stories. Thank you for laying the foundation for the rest of us — the sports journalists, the student-athletes and everyone in between. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @charvarnes11

Related Stories: 

Q&A: Former Northwestern tennis player, USTA chair Katrina Adams talks Title IX and NU athletics 

Top Northwestern women athletes who have gone professional 

Fifty years since Title IX, Northwestern women alumni shine in the sports media world