“In 1972, no one dreamed a dry, 37-word clause tucked inside a new education legislation would have such a profound impact,” reads June 2022’s Sports Illustrated feature. What started as a challenge to equity issues and sex discrimination in education resulted in the Education Amendments Act, signed on June 23, 1972 by then President Richard Nixon. The law’s Title IX recognized gender equity in education as a civil right, however there was no specific mention of athletics, sports, or even physical education, but when applied to all areas of education, started to level the playing field and fostered many champions of women's athletics along the way.
One Laurentian champion is Dorothy “Dotty” Hall, who worked to elevate Saints athletics as chair of the women’s athletic department from 1968 until the merger of women’s and men’s programs in 1974. Hall served as varsity coach for field hockey, women’s tennis, and women’s lacrosse. She also taught Sociology of Sport, Philosophy of Sport, and Gender and Sport before retiring in 2000. Already a member of the St. Lawrence Athletic Hall of Fame, Hall will be inducted into the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Association Hall of Fame this fall.
“There have been dramatic changes in the intercollegiate programming of St. Lawrence’s women’s sports over the last 25 years,” wrote Hall in her book Women’s Sports at St. Lawrence University From Beginnings to Title IX published in 2005. “Title IX has been instrumental in enabling significant growth in all aspects of intercollegiate sport for women.”
Another woman who helped elevate women's athletics at St. Lawrence is Margie Strait M’73. Her 45-year career at St. Lawrence began when she accepted the men’s and women’s Alpine ski coaching position in 1970, at the predawn of Title IX legislation.
“I quickly realized we didn’t have a cross-country [ski] team for women, but the men did,” Strait says. “To do anything in the ski league, you had to have an Alpine and a cross country team, so, I started the women’s cross-country team giving them a better chance of winning in Alpine, too.”
This pursuit of equity followed Strait into each role she took on at St. Lawrence, including when she transitioned from Alpine ski coach to women’s and men’s tennis coach before taking on the role of athletic director in 1997, a position she accepted only after getting assurances from then-President Dan Sullivan that the University would invest in facilities and opportunities for women's sports.
“Whatever we were going to do, it had to be something that would be sustainable over the years, and something that the University would be proud of,” Strait says.
Seven varsity women’s sports were added to the athletic department’s offerings in eight years following the passage of Title IX, and seven more were added from 1992-2000. But despite the new opportunities and the best efforts of Hall, Strait and their contemporaries, St. Lawrence had its share of struggles in recognizing and fulfilling the promise of Title IX, especially in the years immediately following its passage.
In 1974, Kathy Kretow ’78 and Sue Hess ’78 petitioned for a varsity women’s hockey team, but were given permission for a club team only. Two years later, with the successful launch of the club program, they petitioned again to elevate women’s hockey to the varsity level. They were denied. But in 1979, their perseverance paid off and Saints women’s hockey held its first varsity intercollegiate season.
Carol Hill '79, who was a member of the club women's hockey team and now takes photos of many of St. Lawrence's athletic contests as a freelance photographer, has seen a lot of changes in the available resources for female student-athletes, including the facilities at newly-renovated Appleton Arena. More upgrades are planned for Phase II of the Appleton project including three new locker room’s for softball, women’s lacrosse, and women’s rowing.
The upgrades haven’t gone unnoticed, by new recruits, current student-athletes, or alumni. "When I go into the locker room at Appleton for the women's hockey program, I'm blown away,” says Hill. “When I was playing, we changed up under the grandstand. Now, it's night and day."
Hill recognized that there is much to celebrate as well as more work to be done, but with the teamwork of every generation of Laurentians, the Saints will keep making significant progress towards fulfilling the promise of Title IX.