Image credit: Women Make Policy Not Coffee pin-back button, New-York Historical Society, Gift of Frank de Caro, 2018.16.9

The New-York Historical Society is pleased to present Title IX: Activism On and Off the Field, on view May 13 – September 4, 2022. The exhibition commemorates the 50th anniversary of Title IX, an addition to the Education Amendments Act of 1972 that fundamentally reshaped American society by prohibiting discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal assistance. Best known for its twin flashpoints of sports and sexual harassment, Title IX covers a broad swath of American educational life, from K-12 to higher education, thanks to activists and lawmakers determined to secure the advantages of education for all students. On view in the Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery, the exhibition immerses visitors in the spaces shaped most profoundly by the legislation and highlights the crucial work of activists in demanding that their institutions and government live up to the law’s promises. 

“Fifty years ago, with just a few words, the federal government sought to prevent discrimination in education on the basis of sex,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, New-York Historical’s president and CEO. “As our latest exhibition from the Center for Women’s History demonstrates, the path leading up to the creation of Title IX and the subsequent years since its passage have been full of successes and obstacles—with activists advocating for equal opportunities in the classroom and on the field and protection from sexual harassment. We hope visitors will be inspired by the history on display as they consider how they, too, can contribute to a more just future.”

The exhibition traces the trajectory of Title IX and its impact today. The first section, “On the Hill and Bench,” captures the legislative and legal battles over the boundaries of Title IX fought in the halls of Congress and the court system. Displays document the work of activists across the country whose personal experiences with sex discrimination in education and professional careers within federal government agencies made them uniquely qualified to advocate for meaningful regulations for Title IX and to defend the law against amendments intended to weaken it. Items include an image of a third birthday party for Title IX—organized by supporters and attended by members of Congress including Shirley Chisholm—and a “God Bless Title IX” pin-back button distributed by activists to supporters, politicians, and government staff to signal their support of the legislation.

“On Campus” features personal items related to student protests, from a Yale Women’s Crew sweatshirt worn to a 1976 “strip-in” protest to flyers and signs made for demonstrations against sexual violence on campus. These personal items—alongside photographs and a re-creation of a campus kiosk advertising Take Back the Night demonstrations over the last 30 years—convey the passion and commitment of these students.

In a space evoking a stadium, the next section explores the explosion of girls and women engaging in sports and fitness after the passage of Title IX. Although Title IX was based on the Civil Rights Act, the federal government ultimately endorsed sex-segregated sports following extensive debate by women’s rights organizations, athletics organizations, schools, and students. Artifacts from professional athletes and the consumer culture that arose to celebrate them—from Barbie dolls to Wheaties boxes—chart the opportunities for women athletes and the new standards of femininity and strength. 

“In the Classroom” includes items documenting how Title IX aided efforts by parents, teachers, and schools to create new curricula challenging gender stereotypes. Children’s books and classroom materials from the 1970s to the present day show how as understandings of gender have changed, so too has the definition of sex discrimination under Title IX. 

The exhibition closes with a celebration of the law’s accomplishments and a look at what remains to be done. It suggests how the next generation of activists might use, reform, or reimagine the law to fight sex discrimination in educational spaces.

Title IX: Activism On and Off the Field is organized by New-York Historical’s Center for Women’s History and is curated by Curator of Women’s History Collections Laura Mogulescu, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellows in the Center for Women’s History Allison Robinson and Anna Danziger Halperin, and Andrew W. Mellon Predoctoral Fellows Keren Ben-Horin and Karintha Lowe with Valerie Paley, senior vice president, Sue Ann Weinberg Director of the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, and founding director of the Center for Women’s History.

Programming

This year’s annual Diane and Adam E. Max Conference on Women’s History conference takes place virtually and includes a mix of pre-recorded and live conversations with a focus on the history and legacy of Title IX. Billie Jean King provides the keynote, and in another discussion, activists who were central to the fight and recount their efforts to create a legislative and legal framework for equality that persists to this day. Additional conversations discussing the multiple interpretations of Title IX—and its limitations—will be posted online. Private, in-person, docent-led group tours of the exhibition can also be scheduled. 

Support

Lead support for Title IX: Activism On and Off the Field is provided by Northern Trust. Additional support is provided by Ernst & Young LLP. Exhibitions at New-York Historical are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the Evelyn & Seymour Neuman Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. WNET is the media sponsor.

About New-York Historical Society

Experience 400 years of history through groundbreaking exhibitions, immersive films, and thought-provoking conversations among renowned historians and public figures at the New-York Historical Society, New York’s first museum. A great destination for history since 1804, the Museum and the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library convey the stories of the city and nation’s diverse populations, expanding our understanding of who we are as Americans and how we came to be. Ever-rising to the challenge of bringing little or unknown histories to light, New-York Historical will soon inaugurate a new annex housing its Academy for American Democracy as well as the American LGBTQ+ Museum. These latest efforts to help forge the future by documenting the past join New-York Historical’s DiMenna Children’s History Museum and Center for Women’s History. Digital exhibitions, apps, and our For the Ages podcast make it possible for visitors everywhere to dive more deeply into history. Connect with us at nyhistory.org or at @nyhistory on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube, and Tumblr.