Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (1970-1982)

Leotus Morrison (front row, center) posing with other AIAW executive members in 1979 (AIAW Image).

Leotus Morrison (front row, center) posing with other AIAW executive members in 1979 (AIAW Image).

In the 1950’s and 1960’s there was a cry for more organization for women’s athletics, mainly to provide for more opportunities. Before Title IX, action was already being taken to improve women’s sports, by forming a governing body that would help organize women’s sports, namely the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). As shown before, women’s and men’s sports were treated much differently, with the men receiving more funding and coverage via television and other outlets. Women were much more limited in their athletic endeavors.

According to Dr. Leotus Morrison, a former teacher and coach at Madison College/ James Madison University as well as a founder and one time president of the AIAW, “None of the conferences, leagues, nor national athletic organizations was providing any leadership or competitive participation to women.” (Struggle, 2). According to the 1975- 1976 AIAW Handbook-Directory, the commission established national championships for women’s sports and encouraged the organization of women’s sports at all levels, including local, state and regional (AIAW Handbook, 1).

It is first important to understand how the AIAW came to be. The movement really began not with students, but with the professors and coaches at a few colleges, Madison College included. According to Dr. Morrison,

“In the 60s and 70s PE women in some of the colleges (NAGWS women and others) questioned the fact that we had limited opportunities for girls and women to participate in competition and to find out how good they could be. I remember as an undergraduate being required to take part in intramurals as a P.E. major- we had no sports teams- and finding that experience was no challenge” (AIAW History, 1)

According to Morrison’s history of the AIAW, she and some other Virginians began to form a regional organization that would represent southern schools, from Virginia to Texas. A meeting was called and at that meeting the AIAW was organized. The goal of the AIAW was layed out in the AIAW handbook. It says that “Colleges and universities are encouraged  to actively support the AIAW through membership if (1) the subscribe to the belief that the focus of women’s intercollegiate athletics should remain on the individual participant in the primary role as college student…”(AIAW Handbook, 1) It is important to note the focus of women as students rather than athletes representing the school, a big difference between men’s and women’s sports at the time.

It expanded quickly and sponsored 961 schools. By the late 1970’s it had even secured a T.V. contract, drawing the ire of the NCAA, the governing body for men’s sports. Morrison describes the AIAW as a threat to the NCAA because of its growing success and popularity. From the beginning, some in the AIAW had wanted to join the NCAA because it would be good to have a united governing body for both men’s and women’s sports. The NCAA began to offer championships for women and many schools left for the NCAA. The NAIW was disbanded in 1982. Morrison wrote of the decision,

“After much discussion the board of the AIAW decided to disband rather than see women in athletics split and we negotiated with the NCAA to secure leadership opportunities in the NCAA for women. It was a difficult decision because we had representation from three different collegiate groups and we were leaving two of those groups which had been an important part of AIAW” (AIAW History, 2).

Madison College/ James Madison University had the honor and privilege to have Dr. Morrison on its staff during this pivotal time in the nation of sports. Her tireless work with women’s sports shows her dedication, as well as the rest of the staff at Madison College, to equality for women in sports. Her pioneering of the AIAW shows that Madison College had an impact on the organization of women’s sports and is thus a pioneer in women’s sports nationally.

Works Cited:

AIAW Handbook-Directory 1975-1976. Washington, D.C., 1975.

Image of AIAW Executive Board, 1979. Lee Morrison Papers, Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Morrison, Leotus. “AIAW History (1970-1982).” 1-3, Lee Morrison Papers, Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Morrison, Leotus. “The Struggle In Women’s Athletics.” November 12, 1974: 1-15, Lee Morrison Papers, Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.