• Phebe Scott
  • Linda Herman
  • Laurie Mabry
  • Jill Hutchison

Athletics has ample reason to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of Title IX’s passage, as the transformational law was implemented through the efforts of four pioneering ISU women.

Dr. Phebe Scott and Dr. Laurie Mabry were two early Redbird leaders who advocated for women in athletics in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Their fight was advanced by Jill Hutchison, M.S. ’69; and Dr. Linda Herman, M.S. ’72, Ed.D. ’83.

All four advanced opportunities for female athletes before Title IX was enforced in 1972. It prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or other education program that receives federal money.

“One of the first things I learned about Illinois State when getting here was how important this University and department were in the growth of women’s athletics in this country,” Athletics Director Kyle Brennan said. “The women here in leadership positions fought hard at a time when it certainly wasn’t easy to get women more opportunities to play the sports they love.”

Female students organized their own sports at Illinois State as early as 1898, when the first women’s basketball team was featured in the yearbook. In 1919, the Women’s Athletic Association was formed with 18 charter members.

Varsity sports began to emerge throughout the 1920s. Scott became chair of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (HPERD) for women. She led the nation into competitive sports for women through the Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (CIAW).

That paved the way for the 1969 softball team to compete in the first-ever Women’s College World Series in Nebraska, and for ISU to host the inaugural CIAW National Swimming and Diving Championships in 1970. Two years later, ISU hosted the first-ever Women’s National Basketball Tournament inside Horton Field House.

The rest of the 1970s saw the CIAW become an institutional membership organization called the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). Women’s athletics became a separate department overseen by Mabry. She led the Redbirds into the NCAA era at Illinois State.

Hutchison helped establish the regions and qualifying process for AIAW tournaments. Her research helped change women’s basketball to full-court competitions. She became ISU’s head women’s basketball coach in 1970. Herman was an associate director and senior women’s administrator in Athletics from 1982 to 2002, and in that role fought for equitable resources.