|Katie Barber (center) and two players review the lineup for the 1963 women’s tennis team.
As Dickinson boasts 12 women’s and 11 men’s teams that compete at the NCAA Division III level, it’s hard to imagine a time when women were underrepresented in athletics.
In 1923, when basketball became the first women’s intercollegiate sport at Dickinson, there already were six varsity men’s teams. The college progressively added women’s programs, but while the teams existed, equity did not.
When Kathleen “Katie” Barber joined the college staff in 1960, she became the college’s first full-time women’s coach. She pressed for the fair treatment of her field hockey and tennis players.
“The field-hockey team was moved around for practices,” she recalls. “We even played in the grassy space behind the bleachers. The men’s lacrosse team insisted that the field belonged to them.”
Along with no field, the women had no locker room, no assistant coach, no equipment bags, no practice clothes and no laundry service—all of which the men’s teams had.
Also, women’s teams had to start as clubs. “You had to prove yourself for about two years before you were given varsity status,” Barber recalls.
When Title IX, the law that provides fair treatment—in athletics and academics—for women attending educational institutions, was passed in 1972, things began to change.
“There was some resentment among the men,” Barber recalls, “but Dickinson found ways to give women’s teams what they deserved without taking anything away from the men.”
The Committee on Athletics—known as Committee A—was formed in the mid-1970s as part of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. This group of students and faculty and staff members operated for about five years and investigated questions of gender equity in sports on campus.
Nancy Mellerski, professor of French, was a committee member. “At the time there were a number of new women’s sport clubs, so we lobbied for them to become varsity sports,” she recalls. “That began to balance out what had been a very heavy male offering.”
The Penn-Mar Conference of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, organized in 1974 and run by coaches of women’s teams in Pennsylvania and Maryland, provided further assistance in achieving a level playing field.
“At first the male athletic directors attended the meetings to oversee us and tell us what we could do,” Barber recalls. “Eventually they left us alone. Penn-Mar started Dickinson competing and being recognized.”
Judy Yorio, senior women’s athletics administrator from 1980 to 2000, also played a key role in bringing the number of men’s and women’s varsity sports to parity and in monitoring gender-equity issues in the department.
Before Barber retired in 1988, another influential woman joined the college. Julie Ramsey-Emrhein, a certified athletic trainer and instructor, arrived in 1986.
“I was the only young female in the athletics department when I started,” Ramsey-Emrhein recalls. “It’s a whole different environment now. Back then everyone had multiple roles. Now it’s one team per coach.”
In 2000, Ramsey-Emrhein was named senior women’s athletics administrator, which gave her the duty of overseeing the equity between men’s and women’s athletics, including complying with the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act. This report, submitted to the NCAA by Athletics Director Les Poolman, breaks down each men’s and women’s sport and compares the statistics, including numbers of players and coaches, revenue and expenditures. Ramsey-Emrhein reviews the report to ensure equality. And so far, so good.
“I have never found anything over the years that didn’t match up,” she says. “I encourage the coaches to bring anything they see as inequitable to my attention, and I haven’t had that happen.”
While Barber recalls butting heads with a past athletics director who felt that women weren’t legitimate athletes, Ramsey-Emrhein experiences a very different situation. “Les and I are team players, not adversaries,” she explains.
Poolman agrees, saying, “We know what needs to be done, and we’re trying to do it right.”