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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The University of Illinois in the Cold War Era 1945-1975: Women's Athletics at the University of Illinois

Women's Athletics at the University of Illinois

Women's Athletics at the University of Illinois

Illio article on the ascension of women's sports at the University of Illinois

Though the University of Illinois offered limited versions of physical education and athletics to female students in, these activities were usually restricted to intramural competition and calisthenics.  In 1972, the U.S. Congress passed Title IX (the Equal Opportunity in Education Act), prohibiting gender discrimination in American educational institutions, which opened up new opportunities in academics and athletics from college women.  Implementation of the order, however, was slow, and many universities resisted offering equal scholarship and funding opportunities to women’s teams.  The NCAA initially opposed Title IX, and did not begin administering women's athletics programs until 1980.  

The University of Illinois responded to Title IX by dropping three of its nine sports for women (softball, gymnastics, and field hockey) and attempting to drop golf before it was saved by a grant from the chancellor.  Women who participated in sports at the U of I also had to pay most of their expenses, make do without access to equipment and facilities, and face an athletic department that believed that women athletes did not belong.   In 1977, two Illini athletes filed suit against the University of Illinois Athletic Association to force compliance with gender equity.

University of Illinois Sources:

Physical Education for Women Department Papers (multiple series beginning with 16/4/5):  Includes photographs, handbooks, publications, etc. on women’s sports and physical education on campus including prior to Title IX.

Laura J. Huelster Papers, 1914-86 (RS: 16/4/22): Papers of Laura Jewel Huelster (1906-86), professor of physical education for women (1949-72) and department head (1949-66).

Nonacademic Office Subject File, 1963-88 (RS: 24/9/1): Includes Title IX Self-Evaluations (1975-76) submitted by University colleges and offices.

Sports Publicity Posters, 1892-93, 1945- (RS 28/5/815)

Mary Pollock Papers, 1972-1977 (RS 41/20/47): Contains information on equal opportunity for women in sports, athletic budgets, and the National Task Force Guidelines relating to women's sports.

Women's Sports Media Guides, 1983- (RS 28/5/818)


 Daily Illini, 1874- (Microform in Newspaper Library)

ARC Reference File- “Title IX Reunion 2003”


Susan K. Cahn, Coming On Strong: Gender and Sexuality in Twentieth-Century Women's Sport (New York: 1994).

Jessica Gavora, Tilting the Playing Field: Schools, Sports, Sex, and Title IX (San Francisco: 2002).

Mike Conklin, “Illini Agree to Increase Aid for Women,” Chicago Tribune, March 30, 1978, p. C1.

John Husar, “Illini Women’s Athletics Death Near?” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 30, 1973, p. C1.

Marianne Taylor, “Women’s Sports Comes of Age,” Chicago Tribune, March 1, 1981, p. J1.

Joan Zyda, “Title IX Gains Put Victory Within Sight,” Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1976, p. B1.