We've Come A Long Way, Rosa: Title IX and The American Jewess
You didn’t think Title IX would reach its 40th birthday and go unrecognized here at JWA, did you?
Well we’re recognizing it! Five days later, after the hullaballoo has quieted down a bit. Think of us as serving the delicious post-party leftovers you enjoy noshing on after you’ve cleaned up and the guests have left.
In case you haven’t been plugged in this last week (or these last 40 years), here’s a debriefing on the passage of Title IX:
Title IX applies to all educational programs and activities, but we most commonly associate it with sports. Its passage on June 23, 1972 required any educational institution receiving federal money to offer equal opportunities and financial subsidies to men’s and women’s athletic programs.
From the time it became law, there has been an aura of vitality around Title IX, re-energizing the women’s movement, making equality between the genders a concrete and accessible goal. And by almost every measure it’s been a success, for when it comes to education and school sports, young women have come to expect equal opportunity.
40 years is a substantial amount of time. What if we were to go back even further . . . to the late 1890s?
The American Jewess, published from 1895-1899, was the first English-language journal where editor Rosa Sonneschein published relevant articles for members of her ilk: America's newly prosperous and acculturated Jewish woman, who merged aspects of both religious and national identity harmoniously.
Her attitude (and the prevailing zeitgeist) toward athletics, especially in relation to the 40 year anniversary of Title IX, makes me smile. Perhaps you will too when you read some of these excerpts from “Beauty Exercises," an article published in an 1897 issue of The American Jewess.
“It may, I think, be taken as an established fact that no woman can be really beautiful unless she be physically healthy, and athletic culture has now become a part of the curriculum of nearly all our girls’ high schools and colleges.”
Back in the day, women had concerns about weight as well. Take for example the following from the 1897 article:
“. . . There are many physical exercises which will be found of decided advantage to stout people, the object of them being to reduce superabundance off adipose tissue in various parts of the body . . .”
You gotta love that language. Perhaps in the near future the gods of political correctness will circle back and sanction the phrases “stout people” instead of obese, “superabundance” instead of flab, and “adipose tissue” instead of fat.
As a woman who relies on her bicycle as her main mode of transportation, I particularly loved the author’s admonishment that she is “inclined to advise every girl to consult a doctor before buying a bicycle.” Well, for good reason because she’s “seen many cases of complete collapse from this cause.” Frankly, why should we be surprised when it’s common knowledge that women, known for their endurance, “as a rule, are very careless in the matter of ‘reserve force.’”
Remember, there were no physical therapists around in the late 1890s, so it was the wise woman who’d take this advice to heart: “Remember that it is possible to do a certain act in defiance of Nature a hundred times with impunity, and then wrench some delicate muscles, or cause some internal strain, which might render you liable to become an invalid for a year.”
An invalid. For a year. So be careful!
I’d like to close with some final food for thought:
“I am not at all in favor of women adopting the same kind of exercises as men, as, in spite of modern views upon the subject of the equality of the sexes, I think most sensible people will agree with me as to the fact that women are, physically, much more delicately organized than men, and should therefore temper their outdoor sports or indoor calisthenics with a certain amount of prudence.”
We’ve come a long way, Rosa.