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Bernice Sandler, ‘Godmother of Title IX:’ Her Drexel Connection

Bernice Sandler, EdD, received an honorary degree from Drexel University in 2013. Drexel President John Fry (right) applauds Sandler, as College of Medicine Dean Daniel V. Schidlow, MD, prepares to present her with the doctoral hood.

January 11, 2019

Editor’s Note: The following was written by Drexel University’s Office of Equality and Diversity’s Associate Director of Education and Prevention Jesse Krohn.

When Bernice Sandler, EdD, passed away on Jan. 5, national headlines recognized the life of the gender-equality pioneer, who is known as the “godmother of Title IX.” Drexel University Dragons should be proud to know that in addition to her nationwide impact, Sandler directly contributed her vast talents to our own community.

Sandler experienced firsthand the pain of gender discrimination while teaching at the University of Maryland in 1969, when she learned that she was being denied a full-time teaching position because she “c[a]me on too strong for a woman” and was “just a housewife who went back to school,” according to her obituary in the New York Times.  

Furious to discover that there was no federal law prohibiting discrimination against women in educational fields, Sandler channeled her energy toward the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs or activities that receive federal funding.

It is hard to overstate the impact Title IX has had. Athletics, admissions, hiring, promotion, combating sexual harassment — this law opened a whole world of opportunity for women and girls.

Throughout her long and inspiring life, Sandler served in many roles, including scholar, policy advocate and public speaker. But, Dragons may be surprised to learn that Sandler served as an adjunct associate professor at the Drexel University College of Medicine, an affiliation that began with a predecessor school, the Medical College of Pennsylvania (which had grown out of Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania, the world's first medical school for women).

In this role, Sandler worked on projects related to the Women’s Health Education Program and a grant through the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE). She was a “frequent lecturer and adviser to the College of Medicine,” according to Sandra Levison, MD, an adjunct professor in the College of Medicine, who worked at the Medical College of Pennsylvania in a variety of positions for decades and is a co-founder of Drexel’s Women’s Health Education Program.

As Levison, who was a collaborator of Sandler, has observed, Sandler “advanced the rights of U.S. girls and women in athletics, academics and the workplace further than almost any individual.” In light of her unique contributions and trailblazer status, Sandler received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the College of Medicine in 2013 during the 20th anniversary celebration of its Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership.

May Sandler’s own words, recounted in the New York Times obituary, serve as inspiration for the generations that follow her: “We have only taken the very first steps of what will be a very long journey.”