By Barbara Dixon, Former Legislative Assistant to Birch Bayh (1974-1979)
For decades now, women and girls across America have been the beneficiaries of the accomplishments of Birch Bayh, the former senator from Indiana. Tennis legend Billie Jean King may have said it best. “You simply cannot look at the evolution of equality in our nation without acknowledging the contributions and the commitment Sen. Bayh made to securing equal rights and opportunities for every American.”
The three-term senator from a small town in Indiana was elected to the Senate in 1962. Serving on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Bayh quickly assumed leadership roles in civil and women’s rights legislation. He also played a pivotal role with Supreme Court nominations and in protecting and expanding our rights under the Constitution. Besides our founding fathers, Sen. Bayh was the only senator in history to have authored two amendments to the Constitution. However, he was most proud of his work on Title IX. According to the senator, “I’d say probably this had a more profound impact on more Americans than anything else I was able to do.”
In 1972 Sen. Bayh led two efforts seeking equality for women. He was the Senate author of the Equal Right Amendment, guiding it through the Senate Judiciary Committee to passage on the Senate floor. At the same time, he offered an amendment on the floor to the Higher Education bill, creating Title IX, landmark protection for women in any education program receiving federal funds. At that time, fewer than 10% of all medical and law school students were women. In sports the impact was even greater with only 300,000 girls playing high school sports compared to the millions who do today.
Sen. Bayh remained Title IX’s protector for years, even after he left the Senate. In the 1970s he argued forcefully for strong regulations to enforce Title IX, and he successfully beat back efforts by Senate colleagues to remove sports from its mandate. In addition to his efforts on behalf of women, Bayh was involved in some of the most historic Constitutional issues of his time. He authored the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which clarified procedures for succession in the White House and the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18.
Birch Bayh left us with an enduring legacy that forever changed American lives for the better.
Barbara Dixon was Legislative Assistant to Sen. Birch Bayh from 1974 to 1979. She worked with the senator on a number of legislative issues, including his many efforts to protect the rights of women. Those efforts included enacting a resolution to extend time to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, strengthening and protecting Title IX regulations, and creating legislation to protect pregnant women workers from losing workman’s compensation.