Celebrating 50 years of Title IX

by Emily Schwartz and Clare Tourtelotte, Editor-in-chief, Sports Editor
photos courtesy of US Soccer, Equalizer Soccer, The Victory Press and Runner’s World (left to right)

Before 1972, fewer than 300,000 girls nationwide played high school sports. That changed on June 23, 1972, when President Richard Nixon signed Title IX of the Civil Rights Act — groundbreaking legislation that bans sex-based discrimination in federally funded educational programs. The law requires that all co-educational institutions display no discrimination relating to athletics participation numbers, scholarships, program budgets and coaching salaries, creating a widespread impact: today, the number of high school female athletes has increased tenfold from 1972 to more than 3.5 million. Immense strides have been made to advance gender equity and sexual harrasment protocols in high school and college sports and sexual harrasment protocols. In honor of Title IX’s 50th anniversary, sports editor Clare Tourtelotte and editor-in-chief Emily Schwartz compiled the stories of female athletes continuing to fight for equity in Boston.

1967: Women run the Boston Marathon

Katherine Switzer overcoming Semple’s attack. Photo courtesy of Runner’s World

Katherine Switzer was the first woman to officially register for and run the Boston Marathon. In the 1960s, there was a sexist belief that long-distance running would permanently alter women’s “feminine” figures, making it an uncommon sport for women. Despite societal discouragement, Switzer fell in love with marathon running and signed up for the race with her initialed name, K.V. Switzer, unintentionally concealing her gender. 

Switzer completed the marathon, overcoming race director Jock Semple’s attempts to rip her number off and push her off the course when he realized there was a woman racing. Even though it would take five years for women to officially be allowed to race, Switzer helped demystify female athletes, demonstrating to people all over the world that women are capable, strong and powerful.

1991: First FIFA Women’s World Cup 

Michelle Akers. Photo courtesy of SB Nation

Title IX’s passage mandated equal spending on male and female collegiate athletics, fueling a surge in women’s collegiate soccer programs. As a result, in 1991, the Federal International Football Association (FIFA) hosted the first world cup for women, named the “First FIFA World Championship for Women’s Football for the M&M’s Cup.” To this day, FIFA continues to belittle women by calling the men’s tournament simply “The World Cup,” and the women’s “The Women’s World Cup,” only furthering the notion that FIFA doesn’t see men and women equally. 

Nonetheless, in Guangdong, China in 1991, the United States won the Cup with a victory over Norway. Captain April Heinrichs and players Carin Jennings and Michelle Akers-Stahl formed a forward line so dangerous that it was deemed the “Triple-Edged Sword.” Team USA’s 1991 performance laid the groundwork for the victorious 1999 Women’s World Cup, which further encouraged the growth of female athletics. 

2000: Boston Breakers Established

The Boston Breakers in 2017. Photo courtesy of Soccer Today

Professional women’s soccer in the United States has been precarious, unhelped by limited television coverage and franchise deals, but in 2000, the Boston Breakers was founded in the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), the world’s first women’s professional league to pay  all players salaries. In the wake of the success of the 1999 Women’s World Cup, hosted and won by the United States in the iconic Rose Bowl penalty shoot out, 20 U.S. National Soccer Team players worked to secure investors, markets and players for the new league and play began in 2001 with eight teams. 

After the WUSA folded in 2003 and a second attempt at a league, Women’s Professional Soccer, folded in 2012, the Breakers was one of eight teams to play in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Until 2018, when the franchise folded due to a lack of marketing and subsequently a weak fanbase, the team played in Cambridge and Somerville stadiums. Notable Breakers players include World Cup champions Rose Lavelle and Alyssa Naeher. The NWSL has expanded to 12 teams for the 2022 season. 

2016, 2021, 2022: Boston Pride wins the Isobel Cup, the national championship

The Boston Pride winning the Isobel Cup. Photo courtesy of The Victory Press

On March 29, 2022, Boston’s professional hockey team, the Boston Pride, became repeat national champions, winning their third Isobel Cup in program history. Although they are not as recognized as their male counterparts, the Pride have been dominant since 2016, when the Premier Hockey Federation, formerly called the National Women’s Hockey League, was formed as the first professional women’s hockey league to pay its players. 

As one of four founding franchises, the Pride won the inaugural Isobel Cup in 2016 and continued to dominate the expanding league, winning the title in 2021 after a tumultuous COVID-19 season. In September 2020, Boston Logan Airport honored the Pride’s championship wins by unveiling banners alongside those of the Celtics, Bruins, Patriots and Red Sox. The two banners were the first time Logan Airport recognized a women’s professional sports team’s wins. The Pride begins their 2022-2023 season in November.