Written by Doug Moe | Reviewed by Chris Turner
Former Covenant member Kit Saunders came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1964 for graduate school and spent the next 25 years challenging the status quo for women’s sports. Doug Moe’s book is an engaging story about Kit and her work, based on letters, news articles and past interviews with Kit, and interviews with those who worked with her and knew her well.
An excellent all-around athlete who excelled in field hockey, when Kit arrived in Madison she was shocked that progress for competitive women’s sports in the Midwest lagged behind what she had experienced on the east coast. Undaunted, as Kit became a faculty member at UW in the late 1960s, she fought to grow a “Women’s Recreation Program” into an extramural and then a highly competitive intercollegiate athletic program.
In 1972, a large federal education bill, with a smaller component called Title IX, was passed. Title IX read: “No person shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Doug Moe’s book describes the ensuing, sometimes tortured, interpretations and legal wrangling throughout the country as universities attempted to maintain the status quo. One of the efforts included exempting the funding for men’s football and basketball from being considered under Title IX. Facing substantial resistance even at home, Kit patiently and consistently pushed for elevation, attention, and funding for the entire women’s sports program at UW-Madison.
The book displays the shameful aspects of early competitive women’s collegiate sports: having no locker room or training facilities (or uniforms!) for women’s teams like the 1975 national championship UW crew team. In the 1970s, some UW women’s teams had no paid coaches, no uniforms, no training facilities and no budget at all.
As an example of the positive impact that recognition and funding can have, the book cites the facts that in 1972, there were 700 girls in the U.S. who played high school soccer. In 2018, there were over 390,000!
As a collegiate athlete myself on the east coast in the early 1980s, I was stunned that I had not been aware of this history. I did see the funding disparities (and accompanying lack of respect) firsthand, but was oblivious to the political and social resistance to change. Even today, the book cites a 2019 New York Times article’s revelation that out of the 65 universities in the Power 5 conferences, only 4 have women as athletic directors. We still have progress to make and Kit’s legacy to continue.
The book made me wonder: what is our society doing and tolerating today that future generations will be aghast about? What should we be changing, and saying that it’s “The Right Thing To Do.” On behalf of all collegiate athletes, “Thank you” Kit Saunders-Nordeen.