Former Sen. Birch Bayh, Who Authored Title IX Legislation, Dies At 91

Mar 14, 2019
Originally published on March 14, 2019 6:26 pm
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Former Indiana U.S. Senator Birch Bayh died today at the age of 91. The Indiana senator is best known for ushering Title IX into law. But Bayh, who served in the Senate for almost two decades, shaped a host of historic legislation beyond Title IX. Indiana Public Broadcasting's Brandon Smith reports on the passing of a Hoosier political legend.

BRANDON SMITH, BYLINE: Birch Bayh was an icon in Indiana and a titan of the U.S. Senate, serving three terms from 1963 to 1981. Among his accomplishments was his authorship of Title IX of the Higher Education Act, a law guaranteeing women access to educational and athletic programs in higher ed. Bayh said his inspiration for that and his work on the failed Equal Rights Amendment was his wife, Marvella. They met in a national speech competition. As Bayh put it, she won the competition; I won the girl. In an interview in 2011, Bayh said Marvella was denied admittance to the University of Virginia solely because of her gender.

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BIRCH BAYH: The most egregious problem confronted by young women and not-so-young women in our country was being denied full educational opportunity.

SMITH: The effect of that measure is still felt widely today by people like Tonya Pfaff. She's now an Indiana state lawmaker who serves in the same seat Bayh once held.

TONYA PFAFF: Thanks to the ripple effect of Title IX, I personally was awarded a basketball scholarship to West Point.

SMITH: Bayh's legacy includes his work helping craft the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act. He worked alongside his longtime friend Senator Ted Kennedy. That relationship was cemented when Bayh dragged Kennedy to safety like a sack of corn under my arm, he said, after a small plane they chartered crashed in Massachusetts. Bayh is also the only person since the founding fathers to author two amendments to the U.S. Constitution - the 25th Amendment laying out presidential succession and the 26th, which lowered the voting age to 18. Bayh said the latter was driven by the war in Vietnam.

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BAYH: Where you had young men giving their lives in a battle that they couldn't even vote for the people that sent them there.

SMITH: His work to lower the voting age dated back to his time in the Indiana Legislature, where at 30 he was the youngest speaker of the House in the state's history. Current Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican, says Bayh's legacy transcends party labels.

BRIAN BOSMA: I don't even think of him as a Democrat although I know he was a Democrat. I just think of him as a great Hoosier.

SMITH: Bayh said his ability to work across the aisle fueled his political career.

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BAYH: Whatever success I may have had in the Senate's because I had strong support among my colleagues in the Democratic Party and the Republicans as well. And I didn't think that was unusual.

SMITH: Former Congressman Lee Hamilton, another Indiana political legend, says his friend of more than 50 years changed the way Indiana politicians campaigned.

LEE HAMILTON: He would stand, for example, at the corner of the stoplight in Nashville, Ind., when the trees were turning color and the cars would be backed up for miles. And he'd go down the line and shake hands with the people in every car. He just never stopped campaigning.

SMITH: And Bayh said he thinks politics today needs more of that personal touch to break through the partisanship. Bayh is survived by his second wife and two sons, one of whom, Evan, helped further cement the Bayh name and Indiana politics serving as governor and in his father's U.S. Senate seat. For NPR News, I'm Brandon Smith in Indianapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.