By the 1960s, the women’s liberation movement was on the rise, sports were on the rebound, and the call for intercollegiate activity became louder.
The growing size of most women’s sports programs rendered the structure of the WAAs ineffective, and across the nation such organizations were being disbanded in favor of a more centralized and authoritative administrative model.
Locally, the Wisconsin Athletic Recreation Federation of College Women (WARFCW), founded in 1958, led to the creation of the Wisconsin Women’s Athletic Conference (WWIAC) in 1971.
On a national level, the Commission for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (CIAW) was formed in 1967, followed by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) in 1971.
The AIAW was dismantled in 1982, and schools migrated their affiliation to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Today, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is affiliated with the NCAA.
The increasing size and complexity of Wisconsin’s sports program, coupled with the responsibilities of supporting intramurals through the Women’s Recreation Association (the WAA’s successor), proved too much for the physical education department to bear.
To relieve pressure on the department, a club sport program was developed in 1970, headed by Katherine (Kit) Saunders. Continued financial strain, however, made it apparent that the club sports solution would be a temporary one.
As all this was coming to a head, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 was passed. Essentially comparable to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it disallowed discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs.
Athletics is only one element of this picture, but it quickly became the most visible and controversial aspect of Title IX.
Title IX was hardly the end of the struggle for the acceptance of women’s athletics. It sparked debate and hostility from many corners, particularly from that of revenue sports, which saw themselves as being unfairly forced to shoulder the financial burden for non-revenue producing women’s sports.
At Wisconsin, the matter was far from settled. Chancellor Edwin Young appointed a committee headed by Athletic Director Elroy Hirsch to study the situation.
Nine months later, Hirsch’s committee had met only once, and no plan of action had been constructed. On April 3, 1973, a complaint was filed against the University of Wisconsin with the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare for “flagrant violation” of Title IX.
Two weeks later, Chancellor Young appointed a new committee; most of their recommendations were eventually adopted.The Women’s Intercollegiate Athletic program was officially created in May 1974, and began administration with the 1974-75 academic year. Kit Saunders was appointed the first director of the program, to oversee eleven sports with a $118,000 budget.
This is the milestone we use to celebrate as the birth of women’s intercollegiate sports at the University of Wisconsin. The following year, the first women’s booster club in the Big Ten was founded at Wisconsin (WIS Club), and female athletes became eligible to win the famed “W” letter.
In fact, every year since Title IX passed, great strides have been made. After being firmly established, the women’s athletics program has produced many spectacular world-class athletes.
The previous 100 years, for better and for worse, helped to shape the existing program. Women have been active and participating in sports and games since their first days on the Madison campus. They deserve credit for every catch, jump, and hit.
For more information on the history and legacy of Title IX at Wisconsin: