The Godmother of Title IX

July 01, 2010

AAUW has spent the better part of the last 90 years fighting to achieve gender pay equity for American women. We like to believe that we are as well-versed in the history of this epic struggle as just about anybody, and today we are working nonstop to see the Paycheck Fairness Act become law. Occasionally, however, even we learn something that we didn’t previously know. For example:

When Title IX was passed in 1972, it had a deliberately, carefully worded section which was difficult to understand. What it did was to amend the 1963 Equal Pay Act by deleting the original exemption for executive, professional and administrative positions, which included — among other things — all faculty and teachers.

So begins a testimonial from AAUW’s great friend Bernice “Bunny” Sandler, a senior scholar at the Women’s Research and Education Institute. A long and devoted advocate for women’s equity, she is known as the “Godmother of Title IX,” and she has been recognized previously by AAUW as a Woman of Distinction award winner. Recently, Bernice shared with us the inside story about how the Title IX amendments of 1972 actually amended and expanded the reach of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 — two of the most significant pieces of legislation ever produced on behalf of American women. We’re proud to share it with our readers, in the hope that you are as inspired by it as we are.

Morag Simchak was THE expert on the Equal Pay Act in the U.S. Department of Labor, and when Rep. Edith Green was introducing what eventually became Title IX, Green wanted to get rid of the exclusion (which was, incidentally, the compromise agreed to in order for the original Equal Pay Act to pass). She included this amendment to the Equal Pay Act as well as the provision getting rid of the exemption for educational institutions in their “educational activities” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.The latter was taken care of separately by another law passed shortly before Title IX was enacted.

Rep. Edith Green (D-OR)

Rep. Edith Green (D-OR)

A note to readers: Rep. Edith Green (D-OR) served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 20 years. Referred to by one colleague as “the most powerful women ever to serve in the Congress,” Green was not only largely responsible for the Equal Pay Act of 1963, but she also attained the nickname “Mrs. Education” for her tireless work on this critical issue. Morag Simchak worked in the Department of Labor for more than a decade and became a nationally recognized expert on equal employment and gender discrimination issues.

Because Title IX was proposing to amend the Equal Pay Act, Morag was assigned to work with Green on the issue. However, many in the Department of Labor opposed the change. As a result, Morag worded the amendment so that it looked like a technical correction rather than an important change. Having informed colleagues in the Department of Labor early on that the action on the exemption was in the works, she saw no need to inform them again and deliberately kept quiet.

In other words: sometimes the glass ceiling gets shattered when nobody makes a sound.

Thus, when Title IX was signed into law, the Department of Labor was shocked about a week or so later to find out that their jurisdiction had been substantially increased by the addition of executive, professional ,and administrative women — something department officials did not want. Morag was in the clear, however, as she had informed them early in the process.

Morag died several years ago. She served in the Department of Labor for many years and was well known as a member of the small circle of feminists in Washington pushing for change in equal opportunity legislation and in enforcement. She also taught me all about the Equal Pay Act. She was a Polish refugee from World War II who had been a countess and escaped either the Russians and/or the Germans by crossing Poland in a wagon pulled by a horse.

Thank you, Bernice, for sharing with us a story filled with vision and courage!

By:   |   July 01, 2010

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