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Former Senator Birch Bayh, IU alumnus and author of Title IX, dies at 91


Former Sen. Birch Bayh is pictured with his wife Marvella Bayh and son Evan in their Bloomington home while Birch was studying at IU. Birch served as U.S. Senator from Indiana from 1963 to 1981. IU Archives

Former Sen. Birch Bayh, an IU alumnus who authored two constitutional amendments and Title IX, died Thursday. He was 91.

The Indiana Democrat died of pneumonia at his home in Easton, Maryland, his family said in a statement.

Born in Terre Haute, Indiana, Bayh graduated from Purdue University in 1951 and IU School of Law, now called the Maurer School of Law, in 1960. He had been the speaker of Indiana’s General Assembly when he was elected into the U.S. Senate in 1962 and subsequently served three terms.

“At a time when our nation needed strong leaders to help advance progressive ideals, Birch Bayh rose to the challenge, proving himself a fearless champion of those values,” said Rep. Andre Carson, D-7th District, in a statement.

During his time in Congress, Bayh became the only member to author two constitutional amendments since the founding fathers.

Shortly after the assassination of then-President John F. Kennedy, Bayh became the main author of the 25th amendment. This established procedures for the succession in presidency in the case of death, disability or resignation.

Bayh also authored the 26th amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. It passed around the time when 18-year-olds were being drafted into the Vietnam War.

He also produced and advocated for Title IX, a civil rights law that passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972. This law banned gender discrimination in schools receiving federal support, especially in sports. It required schools to give equal resources to men's and women's sports programs.

Austen Parrish, dean of the IU Maurer School of Law, said Title IX was one of the first major legal steps toward equality between men and women in the U.S.

He said new law students are taught about Bayh and his work with Title IX at orientation, especially because it directly affects college campuses such as IU.

“Many students don’t know the history behind it very well,” Parrish said. “But it changed the landscape of higher education.”

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a professor of practice at IU, said he knew Bayh for nearly seven decades. He said he thinks Title IX is Bayh’s greatest legacy.

“It is only a few words in length, but it changed the world for so many people,” Hamilton said.

Throughout their relationship as legislators and friends, Hamilton said he watched Bayh always go out of his way to interact with the members of his community. Bayh never used his power to push his own agenda, Hamilton said.

“I don’t think there was an ounce of bigotry in him,” he said.

Bayh often credited his wife, Marvella, for inspiring him to fight for women’s rights. She wanted to attend the University of Virginia in 1951 but was told she should not apply because she was a woman. She attended Oklahoma State University instead.

She reminded him what it was like to be a “woman in a man’s world,” Bayh said in 2004.

“If it hadn’t been for her, I would not have been in a leadership role that I was in Title IX of the Higher Education Act, equal rights in education, equal rights for women,” he said. “All of those things are the product of Marvella’s coaching and tutoring and her personal experience.”

After Marvella died of cancer in 1979, Bayh remarried. Bayh is survived by his second wife, Katherine “Kitty” Halpin, along with his sons Evan and Christopher and four grandchildren.

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