Friday, March 15, 2019 1:00 am
Bayh key to many landmark laws
Had role in Title IX, lowering vote age, succession
“Birch Bayh was a trailblazer who dedicated himself to improving the lives of all Hoosiers. His remarkable legislative and personal legacy transformed the country and will live on for years to come.” – Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb
“Senator Birch Bayh served the people of Indiana with distinction through his lifetime of service in the Armed Forces, the General Assembly, and the U.S. Senate. Karen and I send our deepest condolences and prayers to Evan, Susan, and the entire Bayh family as they mourn the passing of this good man and great Hoosier Statesman.” – Vice President Mike Pence
“Birch Bayh was a tireless advocate for equality with the rare ability to transcend the prejudices of the moment and see beyond seemingly intractable divisions. He embodied what it means to be a Hoosier: kindness, compassion, common sense, and integrity. We, as a state and as a nation, are forever shaped by his leadership and tenacity.” – Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett
INDIANAPOLIS – When Birch Bayh pushed in the U.S. Senate for the landmark 1972 federal law banning discrimination against women in college admissions and athletics, women received fewer than 10 percent of all medical and law degrees and only 1 in 27 high school girls played sports.
Now, women make up more than half of those receiving bachelor's and graduate degrees and more than 3 million high school girls – 1 in 2 – play sports.
Bayh reveled in the impact of the Title IX law in the years after his time as a Democratic senator from Indiana ended.
“There was a soccer field I used to jog around,” he said in a 2002 interview. “One day, all of a sudden, I realized that half of the players were little girls and half of them were little boys. I realized then that that was, in part, because of Title IX.”
Tennis great Billie Jean King, who worked with Bayh on women's rights issues, released a statement with his family Thursday saying the former senator was “one of the most important Americans of the 20th century.”
“You simply cannot look at the evolution of equality in our nation without acknowledging the contributions and the commitment Senator Bayh made to securing equal rights and opportunities for every American,” King said.
Bayh, a liberal Democrat, won three narrow elections to the Senate starting in 1962 at a time when Republicans won Indiana in four of the five presidential elections.
Bayh was the lead sponsor of the law prohibiting gender discrimination in education – known as Title IX for its section in the Higher Education Act. Bayh said the law was aimed at giving women a better shot at higher-paying jobs.
“It was clear that the greatest danger or damage being done to women was the inequality of higher education,” Bayh once said. “If you give a person an education, whether it's a boy or girl, young woman or young man, they will have the tools necessary to make a life for families and themselves.”
Bayh used his position as head of the Senate's constitutional subcommittee to craft the 25th Amendment on presidential succession and the 26th Amendment setting the national voting age at 18.
The issue of presidential succession was fresh when Congress approved the amendment in 1967. The vice presidency had gone vacant for more than a year after President John F. Kennedy's assassination because there was no provision for filling the office between elections.
The amendment led to the presidency of Gerald Ford less than a decade later when Ford first succeeded Spiro Agnew as vice president and then took over the White House after President Richard Nixon's resignation during the Watergate scandal.
Bayh's push to lower the national voting age from 21 to 18 came amid protests over the Vietnam War and objections that Americans dying on battlefields were unable to vote in all states. The amendment won ratification from the states in 1971.
Bayh had begun preparing to make a run for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination when his wife, Marvella, was diagnosed with breast cancer. He dropped that campaign but entered the 1976 presidential campaign, finishing second to Jimmy Carter in the opening Iowa caucuses but then faring poorly in later primaries.
Born Jan. 22, 1928, in Terre Haute, Birch Evans Bayh Jr. moved to his maternal grandparents' farm at the nearby community of Shirkieville after his mother's 1940 death and his father's entry into World War II military service.
Bayh won his first election to the state Legislature in 1954, and son Evan was born the following year. Bayh rose quickly in politics, becoming the Indiana House speaker in 1959 at the age of 30. He earned a law degree from Indiana University, completing law school while serving in the Legislature.
Bayh was 34 when elected to the Senate and soon became friends with the only senator younger than him – Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Bayh and his wife were flying with Kennedy when their small plane crashed near Springfield, Massachusetts, in June 1964. The pilot and a legislative aide were killed, but Bayh pulled Kennedy, who suffered a broken back and other serious injuries, from the wreckage.
After leaving the Senate, Bayh worked as a lawyer and lobbyist in Washington. He remarried in 1982, and he and second wife, Katherine “Kitty” Helpin, had a son, Christopher, who is now a lawyer in Washington.