When Donna Lopiano was a child she dreamed of becoming a New York Yankee. So it comes as no surprise that, at the age of eleven, after making the Little League team, she stood gleefully in line to receive her navy and white pinstripe uniform—that is until a local father approached her with a Little League rulebook and pointed out that girls were not allowed to play. Before this moment, Lopiano was used to playing ball with all of the boys on her street. She was treated with respect as a player and grew confident in her skills. It was this confidence that kept Lopiano going, even when she was told she couldn’t play because of her gender. It was also with this self-assurance that Lopiano made a name for herself as one of the nation’s foremost advocates for gender equity in sports.
Donna Lopiano was born in Stamford, Conn., on September 11, 1946, to Thomas and Josephine Sabia Lopiano. The fact that their oldest daughter was a self-proclaimed tomboy did not phase them at all. Not only did they not discourage their daughter, but some of their actions also suggest they actively encouraged her. When Lopiano received her first Holy Communion, her gift from her parents was a baseball glove. First-generation Italian-Americans, Lopiano’s parents were restaurant owners living an American dream that demanded them to be hardworking and they did not mind if their daughter was outside playing baseball with the boys every night, so long as she had goals and never lost sight of her education.
Even though her parents supported her, the Little League incident made it clear that not everyone was a champion for young girls playing sports traditionally reserved for young boys. Opportunities to continue playing were harder to come by than Lopiano could have foreseen, but she persisted. At the age of sixteen, she was presented with the opportunity to play for the Brakettes, a national championship women’s softball team located in Stratford. By the following year, Lopiano found herself touring Europe and Asia with a team of women she came to view as strong mentors. Throughout the years, she would look to a lot of her teammates, many of whom were older than she, as role models, including fellow player, and softball legend Joan Joyce. Between tournaments, Lopiano finished high school and pursued her bachelor’s degree in Physical Education from Southern Connecticut State University. She would also receive her doctorate from the University of Southern California in 1972, the same year she helped lead the Brakettes to a national title.
After the 1972 season, Lopiano left the Brakettes after only ten years, a career some people considered relatively short, but Lopiano had other dreams to pursue. She had earned a position as an assistant athletic director at Brooklyn College, where she also enjoyed coaching basketball, volleyball, and softball. In 1975, she moved to Austin, TX to become the Director of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women at the University of Texas. Here, her programs for women athletes won eighteen national championships in six sports and produced 314 All-Americans. As Lopiano herself was always committed to her studies, she made sure that her athletes were, too. Under her guard, the mean SAT scores of her players went up 100 points.
Lopiano became known for holding her coaches responsible both for winning and for insuring the satisfactory progress of their athletes toward a degree. She also made major strides in achieving financial equity for her programs, with most women coaches receiving the same salaries as their male counterparts. In 1992, Lopiano became the Chief Executive Officer for the Women’s Sports Foundation and made it her mission to ensure school athletic programs throughout the country were compliant with Title IX. She maintained this role until 2007.
Lopiano is the author of dozens of publications, holds two honorary doctorates, and in 1995 was noted as one of the “100 Most Influential People in Sports” by Sporting News. In addition to the Softball Hall of Fame, Lopiano has been inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame and is a member of the national honors committee of the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Donna Lopiano is the founder and president of Sports Management Resources, a firm that links experienced consultants with schools to help build strong athletic programs. She continues to highlight women in athletics through articles and interviews and maintains the fight to provide young women with opportunities in athletics.
During This Time
1966 - Today: Struggle for Justice
Feminism in the late 1960s was aided by President Kennedy, who formed the President’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1961, and his successor, President Johnson, who backed passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. Difficulties in implementing the law through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) led a group of women in 1966 to create the National Organization for Women (NOW), demanding “action to bring American women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now.”
A younger group called for a more radical approach to social change than simply considering what was possible to achieve politically. “Women’s liberation” demanded freedom without limitation. Some took part in consciousness-raising groups, others demonstrated against the Miss America pageant, and many discussed their expectations of mutual enjoyment of sex. They established rape crisis centers, domestic shelters, and women’s studies programs. Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act also increased pressure on universities to hire more women faculty and expand the number of female college athletes. Activist protest among gays and lesbians, such as the Stonewall Riot, symbolized this group’s potential to resist oppression.
Under pressure, many states repealed legislation prohibiting abortion. In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized its availability to women in Roe v. Wade. Also in 1973, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the ERA, and states began its ratification.
Yet, dissension arose in the ranks of the movement, as it had earlier after passage of the 19th amendment. Feminists disagreed as to whether pornography should be banned or protected as a form of free speech, and whether lesbian identities should be kept secret or disclosed. Black women were more concerned with poverty and welfare in their communities than with personal career advancement; for them, sterilization abuse was more important than abortion, and they were deeply insulted by attacks on the African American family as matriarchal and dysfunctional.
A backlash was growing in the 1970s, along with a New Right in politics. The ERA was defeated and opposition to abortion increased. Conflicts between pro-life and pro-choice candidates have impacted every presidential campaign since then.
Still, gains have been made in many areas. From 1960 to 2000, increasing numbers of women sought entry to higher education, and bachelor’s degrees awarded to them increased from forty to sixty percent. Definitions of marriage have changed, as when courts gave full rights and responsibilities and the name of marriage to same-sex civil unions in Connecticut in 2008. The Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 highlighted concern about sexual harassment on the job, and the number of sexual harassment cases filed with the EEOC have increased, as have judgments in favor of the women. Finally, in 2009, women crossed the fifty percent threshold and became the majority of the American workforce. Once largely confined to repetitive manual jobs, now they are running organizations that once treated them as second-class citizens.
The Women’s Movement has changed women’s lives, influenced the economy, and made debate about their roles, family life, and sexual conventions central to national politics and American history.
Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.