Few of the myriad rules universities grapple with have drawn more attention recently than Title IX, the federal legislation barring sex discrimination in higher education. What doesn’t get as much attention is the role a University of Oregon graduate played in passing the landmark law.
Former Oregon Congresswoman Edith Green, a Duck who became known as “the mother of higher education,” walked off the graduation stage and into her chosen career as a schoolteacher. But she went on to do even more.
After getting her education degree at the UO, Green became a champion of women’s rights and higher education and was the moving force behind Title IX as well as the Higher Education Act, which provides federal funding for universities and student aid.
She also sponsored the Equal Pay Act of 1963, a pioneering effort to require that women get paid as much as men for equal work. And she became the No. 2 Democrat in the House of Representatives before retiring, later earning praise from Oregon Sen. Mark Hatfield as “probably the most powerful woman ever to serve in the Congress.”
A daughter of teachers who wanted to follow in their footsteps, Green initially enrolled at Willamette University to pursue a teaching degree. But she had to withdraw when money got tight.
That ended up fueling her passion for improving education and making it more accessible. Green returned to school in 1939, enrolling at the UO and graduating in 1940. She became a teacher and spent 11 years in the classroom before leaving to blaze her own trail.
After some time working in legislative relations for education organizations, she ran for office and in 1954 was elected to represent Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District, becoming just the second Oregon woman elected into the U.S. House of Representatives. In her first year in the capitol she was appointed to the Committee on Education and Labor, remaining a member for 18 years.
In 1963 she authored the Higher Education Facilities Act — which then-President Lyndon B. Johnson called the “greatest step forward in the field in 100 years” — allocating federal funding for college libraries, classrooms and labs. Two years later she introduced the Higher Education Act of 1965; the two measures created federal financial aid for undergraduates and universities for the first time.
Green’s biggest triumph in reform and legislation may well have been the work she did leading up to the creation of Title IX in 1972. Title IX explicitly prohibits federally funded higher education institutions from discriminating on the base of sex, and included as sanctions exclusion from education programs, activities, benefits and federal financial assistance.
As the chair of the Subcommittee on Higher Education, Green was responsible for conducting the week of hearings that led to the development of Title IX. She preceded the series of hearings by stating, “Let us not deceive ourselves. Our educational institutions have proven to be no bastions of democracy.”
The week of hearings was arduous, with university administrators and representatives alike protesting the bill, saying it would force schools to build unisex bathrooms and admit equal numbers of male and female students. After Title IX passed, Green said, “I don’t know when I have ever been so pleased, because I had worked so long and it had been such a tough battle.”
In addition to Title IX, she was responsible for the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which established that women receive equal pay for doing the same work as men. Green later expressed frustration with Congress’ slow action, saying “it took over eight years to persuade (them) that a woman doing identical work with a man ought to be paid the same salary!”
Nicknamed “the mother of higher education” by her peers, Green became the second-highest-ranking Democrat in Congress and seconded the Democratic presidential nominations in 1956 and 1960. John F. Kennedy offered her the position as U.S. ambassador to Canada, but she declined; when he later appointed her to his Committee on the Status of Women, she accepted.
Green retired in 1974 and became a professor of government at Warner Pacific College. She was appointed co-chair of the Oregon State Board of Higher Education in 1979 and was later appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships in 1981.
Green died of cancer in 1987 at age 77. In her New York Times obituary, her son James said, “She realized she had to work with the men before she knocked them over. ‘The key is to work with them,’ she said, and she was very good at it. I think her colleagues would testify to that.”
—By Mina Naderpoor, UO Alumni Association intern