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Minnesota Women's Legislative Timeline

Significant Legislation Passed by the Minnesota Legislature Since Suffrage

1975 - Equal Opportunity in Athletics 

Synopsis: This law, known as the "Kahn Act," provided for equal opportunity in athletic teams and spelled out when single-sex teams are acceptable (Laws 1975, Chapter 338).

Legislative History: In 1975, the Minnesota Human Rights Act was amended to ensure a pathway of equal athletic opportunities for boys and girls. The Minnesota law permitted athletic team membership to be restricted to one sex if necessary to provide both sexes with an equal opportunity to participate. Tax-funded entities such as public schools, colleges and city recreation programs are required to follow these regulations. The law also says that if two separate teams are provided in the same sport, then they must be treated in a substantially equal manner, including budget allocations (gate receipts, gifts and funds raised by booster clubs are exempt from the bill). Rep. Phyllis Kahn was a leader in introducing this legislation; the state law strengthened the federal Title IX regulations which were declared by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The primary difference is that Minnesota law explicitly provides for no sex separation in athletics or sports teams for children under the age of 11. Another provision of the law allows girls to try out for boys' teams, even if separate teams are provided, for athletes age twelve and older. The bill passed both the Minnesota House and Senate with little opposition. Furthermore, according to the results of a Minneapolis Star Metro-Poll, Twin Cities area residents were in support of the new measures. All entities under this law had to be in compliance by the 1977-1978 academic year.

In 1994, a law was passed that addressed gender equity in indoor ice arenas. The law centers on ice arenas used by the public, which must provide prime ice time to women and girls (Laws 1994, Chapter 632, Article 3, Section 23).

Historical Context: In the 19th century in America, sports for women existed mostly as recreation such as swimming and horseback riding. Women's constitutions were assumed to be more delicate than men's and women were advised by medical professionals that physical activity near the time of menstruation was hazardous to one's health. As women gained access to higher education, they became more competitive in athletics, especially in sports such as tennis, croquet, bowling and archery. Prevailing laws and attitudes were slow to change, however; it wasn't until the 1920s that women were allowed to play intercollegiate sports (basketball was the first organized intercollegiate sport for women). Despite universal suffrage, the growth in women's athletics was slow until the 1940s when women joined the military and the first female professional league (baseball) was established. As the civil rights and feminist movements gained strength, so did the push for equality in athletics at all ages. In 1972, Congress passed Title IX (an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964) which went largely unnoticed until colleges and municipalities started to question how they were supposed to implement Title IX. Congress allowed a six-year implementation timeline but Title IX requirements have resulted in consistent and contentious debates from 1972 to this day. Minnesota's law attempted to clarify Title IX requirements and added its own progressive stamp to the issue of equality in athletics at even the very youngest age.

Selected Resources
Gender Equity in Athletics: A Manual to Assist Minnesota High Schools to conduct a Self-Review of Their Athletic Programs. Minnesota State High School League, 1993. The introduction includes a historical perspective.

This is a joint project of the LCC Office on the Economic Status of Women and the Legislative Reference Library.  The project is made possible by the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on Nov. 4, 2008. Administered by the Minnesota Historical Society.

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