Female athletes in high schools and colleges may be keenly aware of their increased presence on the basketball court, soccer field and ice rinks and elsewhere.
But they probably do not know the name of the woman who helped push to make athletic parity with men a reality.
That woman was Cardiss Collins.
Collins, who represented Chicago along with Oak Park and other west suburban communities for more than two decades, died earlier this month in Arlington, VA. She was 81.
Her death was announced by U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis, who became the 7th District representative after Collins retired in 1997.
During her more than two decades in the Congress, Jet Magazine hailed her as a trailblazer, said Davis in a statement.
“She was the first African American woman elected to the Congress from the Midwest and for nearly a decade after being elected she was also the first African American woman elected to Democratic Party leadership: Whip at Large. For nearly a decade after her election she was the only African American woman in the Congress.
As a Member, Representative Collins led efforts to curtail credit fraud against women, advocated for providing for gender equity in college sports, and reforming federal child care facilities, chaired the Government Activities and Transportation Sub-Committee and chaired the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Cardiss Collins was a serious advocate for women and working people.
We appreciate her service and mourn her death.”
Davis also read a statement on the floor of the U.S. House that paid tribute to Collins.
Collins came to Congress in 1973, albeit reluctantly. She won a special election in 1973 to replace her husband, George, who died in a plane crash in 1972.
Her investigations of college sports resulted in increased pressure on colleges and universities to carry out the mandates of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX calls for equal opportunities for women athletes to participate in collegiate sports and to improves graduation rates of athletes, according to her biography published by the Women's Studies Department of the University of Maryland.
Because of an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Act that she sponsored, colleges and universities are now required to disclose funding and participation rates broken down by gender, according to the Washington Post.
She was an outspoken critic of standardized college entrance exams — which she considered racially and culturally biased — as criteria for athletic eligibility, the Post reported.
A champion of universal health care, according to the Chicago Tribune, she also pushed through legislation expanding Medicare coverage for mammography screening for older and disabled women and introduced resolutions designating October National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, according to the New York Times. She wrote laws increasing safety labeling on toys, setting safety standards for bicycle helmets and expanding child care services for federal workers nationwide. She also sponsored several measures to make air travel safer.