Jun. 23, 2014

Old Blue

by William Stafford

Some day I'll crank up that Corvette, let it
mumble those marvelous oil-swimming gears
and speak its authority. I'll rock its big wheels
till they roll free onto the drive. Nobody can
stop us then: loaded with everything, we'll pick up
momentum for the hill north of town. Mona,
you didn't value me and it's too late now.
Steve, remember your refusal to go along on
those deals when you all opposed me?—you had
your chance. Goodby, you squealers and grubbies;
goodby, old house that begins to leak, neighbors
gone stodgy, days that lean casually grunting
and snoring together. For anyone who ever needs
the person they slighted, this is my address: "Gone."

"Old Blue" by William Stafford from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems. © Graywolf Press, 1999. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Tonight is Midsummer Night's Eve, also called St. John's Eve. St. John is the patron saint of beekeepers. It's a time when the hives are full of honey. The full moon that occurs this month was called the Mead Moon, because honey was fermented to make mead, and that's where the word "honeymoon" comes from. It is a time for lovers. An old Swedish proverb says, "Midsummer Night is not long but it sets many cradles rocking.

Shakespeare set his play A Midsummer Night's Dream on this night. It tells the story of two young couples who wander into a magical forest outside Athens. In the play, Shakespeare wrote, "The course of true love never did run smooth."

It was on this day in 1972 that Title IX was signed into law by President Richard Nixon. Title IX prohibited sex discrimination in any federally funded education activity or program. This applied to all schools, from elementary to universities, both public and private. Although the original language doesn't mention sports, the biggest change came for female athletes in high school and college, whose opportunities had been very limited.

In 1969, a part-time lecturer at the University of Maryland named Bernice Sandler was struggling to move up the career ladder. She had a doctorate in counseling psychology, but when she applied for one of her department's seven tenure-track positions, she wasn't even considered. One of her colleagues told her that even though she was qualified, she might as well not apply because she seemed "too strong for a woman." She was rejected twice more after that. One interviewer told her that she wasn't a real professor, but "just a housewife who went back to school."

Sandler didn't back down. Instead, she read everything she could find about workplace discrimination. She read about the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which was intended to equalize pay for men and women — but there was a broad exemption for anyone in "executive, professional, and administrative positions," including all teachers at any level. She found an executive order that President Johnson had ordered as an expansion of the Civil Rights Act, which made it illegal for companies doing business with the government to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, or nationality. It had been amended in 1967 to also prohibit discrimination based on sex. As soon as she read that, Sandler realized that she had found her loophole. She said, "Even though I was alone, I shrieked with my discovery." Since universities took funding from the government, they could technically be said to be "doing business with the government," and so they should be subject to Johnson's executive order as well.

Sandler ordered a class action charge against all universities and colleges in the country. She backed up her case with a long report of data, including statistics like the high ratio of female Ph.D.s to female faculty members. Hundreds of qualified women who had been denied academic positions wrote testimonials. Sandler worried that a federal order could be easily undone, and she believed that sex discrimination should be prohibited by a formal law. Representative Edith Green of Oregon, chair of the House Committee on Education, introduced the bill known as Title IX, requiring gender equity in education, as part of the 1972 Education Act. She actually encouraged women's groups and other supporters to stay silent on the issue, with the hope that Congress wouldn't think too hard about the significance of Title IX and just vote for it. That is exactly what happened. Someone raised a brief concern that the bill would require schools to allow women to play football. Once the bill's sponsors reassured everyone that this would not happen, the bill was passed.

Title IX revolutionized gender equity in education. Since its passage, the percentage of women obtaining degrees in higher education has steadily climbed, and women now outpace men in obtaining both bachelor's and graduate degrees. By far the greatest impact has been felt in sports. After the passage of Title IX, women's teams were required to have the same resources as men's teams — coaches, training facilities, locker rooms, equipment, etc. Spending on men's and women's sports had to be proportional to the number of athletes participating. In 1972, there were 170,000 men competing in NCAA sports and just 30,000 women — that number has now grown to 150,000. At the high school level, girls' participation in sports has increased by more than 900 percent.

On this day in 1868, the first typewriter was patented by Christopher Latham Sholes. It only had capital letters and it took up as much room as a large table. Typewriters were slow sellers at first, but Mark Twain bought one almost as soon as they came out, and in 1883 Twain sent the manuscript of his book Life on the Mississippi (1883) to his publisher in typed form, the first author ever to do so.

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