Not only is March the celebratory month for women across the world, but this March of 2022 has even more significant value.

Fifty years ago, the United States implemented Title IX — a federal law prohibiting gender related discrimination in education. One of the many effects of Title IX was the expansion of women’s sports programs at schools and universities across the nation. 

While the University of Wisconsin certainly is dominated by female athletes today, that wasn’t always the case. You can go all the way back to the late 19th century to find women participating in sports on campus, but the current women’s sports landscape at UW wasn’t even the same as it is now back in the 1990s. 

A women’s boating and basketball team were both established in the 1890s. The basketball team played in the all-women dorm Ladies Hall, now known as Chadbourne Hall, and actually was formed before any men’s basketball team. 

Female athletes, academics discuss Title IX near its 50th anniversaryFemale athletes and scholars discussed the present and future of women in sports at an online session hosted by the Read…

Women’s sports became more official and organized in 1902 with the formation of the Women’s Athletic Association, which also offered bowling, hockey, tennis, and golf as competitive sports. 

The WAA was the sole organizer and funder for women’s athletics for the next 70 years, where sports largely stayed interclass, with no other colleges playing Wisconsin. But with participation and interest growing too fast, the WAA was unable to govern the entirety of women’s sports on campus and was eventually phased out.

This paved the way for the Division of Girls’ and Women’s Sports to sponsor nationwide championships, which led to Wisconsin’s first official women’s intercollegiate competition in 1970 when UW participating in the DGWS Diving championship. D’Lynn Damron, a member of UW’s diving team, won both the 1- and 3-meter events to become the first women’s national champion for Wisconsin.

Two years after Title IX was first implemented, Wisconsin finally established a varsity women’s sports program in 1974. Under the leadership of Kit Saunders-Nordeen, the first director of women’s athletics in UW history, twelve different sports were brought in. This included current Wisconsin sports like basketball and volleyball, as well as sports that have since ceased, like badminton and field hockey. 

It didn’t take long for Wisconsin to find success. In 1975, the varsity women’s rowing team took home the first national championship in UW female athletics history. Following this achievement, female athletes could finally earn scholarships for their athletic achievements — the first of which being given to the basketball team in 1976. Soon after, Gilda Hudson-Winfield, the first Black female student-athlete at UW, earned a scholarship, thanks to her unofficial Big Ten champion winning 100-yard dash.

Women’s Basketball: Badgers’ season comes to end after loss to IllinoisFollowing a last-second victory against Purdue to close the regular season, Nancy Fahey and the Fighting Illini (7-19, 1-13 Big Read…

1981 was another big year for women’s sports. Not only was it the year that the women’s soccer team made their debut, but it was also the first year that both the NCAA and Big Ten officially recognized women’s sports, allowing for both conference and national championships. Championships like DGWS were previously organized by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. 

The badminton team took home Wisconsin’s first national title in this format in 1983. 1984 to 1995 was highlighted by the play of many Wisconsin legends and team performances. This included Carie Graves who became the first gold medal winner for Wisconsin as a part of the U.S. Olympic rowing team in 1984. 

Badger hall-of-famer, Lisa Boyd, also left her mark on the school during this time. The volleyball star was the first women’s Big Ten Player of the year in 1990, coinciding with one of the best years in team history. The volleyball team went 29-8, winning the conference and making it all the way to the regional semi-finals. 

There may not be a more decorated athlete in school history than Suzy Favor. Favor, who ran track and cross country from 1987-91, won nine NCAA Championships, an all-time record, and 32 Big-Ten Championships. Her prowess in 1990 earned her the Honda-Broderick Award, given to the best collegiate female athlete in any sport. She remains the only Wisconsin athlete who has received the award. 

Both the basketball team and the soccer team reached new heights in the early 90s. The soccer team was national runner-up in 1991 under the leadership of goalkeeper Heather Taggart — the only soccer player to win Wisconsin Female Athlete of the Year. Taggart, a Badger hall-of-famer, is still the program leader in career shutouts with 52.5.

The 1992 basketball team went 20-9, and became the first basketball team, men’s or women’s, to reach the NCAA Tournament since 1947. Hall-of-Famer Robin Threatt led the way with 19.8 points per game. Threatt’s 1,901 career points are fourth all-time, and she was also the first UW athlete to play in the WNBA.

The end of the millennium brought two new women’s sports: softball in 1995 and women’s hockey in 1999. 

Volleyball: UW beats Nebraska in a thriller to win first ever national championshipAfter nine straight NCAA tournaments, four semi-final and three championship appearances that had 11 different All-Americans, Kelly Sheffield and the Read…

While both programs have seen success in their time, the women’s hockey team has established itself as one of the premier college teams in their respective sport. Since 2006, the team, under head coach Mark Johnson, has won six national championships, including last year’s 2020-21 national championship. The program also has produced five Patty Kazmaier winners — the award given out to the best college women’s hockey player. 

The volleyball team also has recently elevated their game to new heights, making the NCAA tournament from 2013 to their latest season in 2021. Last season, the volleyball team went over the hump, beating Nebraska in an epic championship game.

From Robin Threatt to Sydney Hilliard, Sara Bauer to Daryl Watts, and Lisa Boyd to Dana Rettke, the stars of yesterday certainly set the path for the stars of today. Women sports certainly have not had the same amount of time to establish themselves as the men sports, but, in a much shorter span of time than they deserved, the Wisconsin women’s sports program has produced multiple gold medalists, record holders and champions. 

Through Title IX and the determination of its athletes, very few schools have as dominant of a female presence as Wisconsin — a feat more than a century in the making.