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Breaking barriers: 50 years of Title IX

Fifty years ago, Title IX changed the competitive landscape. Harpeth Hall women have made remarkable achievement in athletics ever since.

A landmark piece of legislation that changed the future for women and girls across the United States, Title IX has shaped the journeys and barrier-breaking accomplishments of Harpeth Hall students, alumnae, and faculty members for the last 50 years.

Title IX pushed American schools, colleges, and universities to broaden their women's athletic programs, and for the first time, athletic scholarships were offered to women. In that way, Title IX opened the door for Tracy Caulkins — a 1981 graduate of Harpeth Hall — to swim at the collegiate level. She went on to become the only swimmer (man or woman) to set American records in all four strokes and to win three gold medals in the 1984 Olympics.

“Title IX was a gamechanger for me,” Caulkins said.

Title IX also opened the door for Susan Russ, a former Harpeth Hall coach and athletic director.

In 1969, Coach Russ established the first women's track and field program at Memphis State University with no money for recruitment and no additional pay for herself. As Title IX took hold, Coach Russ built the running program she created into a national powerhouse while also overseeing the formation of a cross country team. In 1979, she brought that prowess to Harpeth Hall, where she spent 30-plus years as a coach and athletic director and led 20 teams to state titles in track and field, team relays, and cross country.

“What did Title IX mean to me and my girls? It put us on the track,” Coach Russ told Harpeth Hall archivist Mary Ellen Pethel in the

upcoming book “Title IX, Pat Summitt, and Tennessee’s Trailblazers: 50 Years, 50 Stories.”

The progress continues to this day. As Title IX created new educational and athletic opportunities for women that would not have existed otherwise, the legislation opened doors to many other modern-day accomplishments of Harpeth Hall women in sports.

This year, Katie Hill, a 2000 graduate of Harpeth Hall, joined the National Football League as its senior vice president of communications. Katie joins the NFL after serving as former President Barack Obama's communications director. Locally, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletics Association promoted Emily Crowell ’05 to an assistant executive director. She is the first woman in the organization to reach that level in the association’s 96-year history. After initially joining the TSSAA in 2010 as an administrative assistant, Crowell was later named director of championship events and placed in charge of middle school and high school tournaments.

There’s also Annie Taylor, a 2020 graduate of Harpeth Hall and a women's track-and-field athlete at Navy. It was on July 6, 1976 — little more than four years after the passage of Title IX — that the United States Naval Academy first admitted women. Among the 1,300 plebes who arrived at the academy on that day were 81 women (6.2% of the class).

Today, the U.S. Naval Academy has a total undergraduate enrollment of 4,594 (fall 2020), with 28% female students. Among them are three Harpeth Hall alumnae – lacrosse player Leelee Denton ’20, engineer Reese Graves ’20, and Annie, who has set the barrier-breaking mark both athletically and academically. Annie set the Navy school record in the pentathlon (indoor) as a freshman last school year. In addition, she received the plebe leadership award — The Carl Vinson Leadership Award — as #1 in her Naval Academy class.