Obit Bayh

FILE - In this June 20, 2012 file photo, former Sen. Birch Bayh, D-Ind., the author of Title IX in Congress, speaks during a forum in the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington in a gathering to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Title IX. Bayh, who championed the federal law banning discrimination against women in college admissions and sports, has died. He was 91. Bayh died early Thursday, March 14, 2019, surrounded by his family at his home in Easton, Md., according to a statement released by his family. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

INDIANAPOLIS — Former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh, who championed the Title IX federal law banning discrimination against women in college admissions and sports, died at his home Thursday at age 91.

Bayh was surrounded by family at his home in Easton, Maryland, when he died shortly after midnight from pneumonia, his family said in a statement. His son, Evan, followed him into politics and became Indiana’s governor and a senator.

The liberal Democrat had a back-slapping, humorous campaigning style that helped him win three narrow elections to the Senate starting in 1962, at a time when Republicans won Indiana in four of the five presidential elections. Bayh’s hold on the seat ended with a loss to Dan Quayle during the 1980 Ronald Reagan-led Republican landslide.

Bayh (pronounced “by”) sponsored a constitutional amendment lowering the voting age to 18 amid protests over the Vietnam War and another amendment allowing the replacement of vice presidents.

But it was his work to pass the landmark Title IX law that solidified his legacy. He wrote and was the lead sponsor of the 1972 law, which prohibits gender discrimination in education — known as Title IX for its section in the Higher Education Act.

The law’s passage came at a time when women earned fewer than 10 percent of all medical and law degrees, and fewer than 300,000 high school girls — one in 27 — 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 — one in two — play sports.

Bayh said the law was aimed at giving women a better shot at higher-paying jobs, and he continued speaking in support of Title IX’s enforcement for years after leaving Congress.

“It was clear that the greatest danger or damage being done to women was the inequality of higher education,” Bayh said in a 2012 interview. “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.”

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.

Born on Jan. 22, 1928, in Terre Haute, Indiana, 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.

He graduated from Purdue University’s School of Agriculture after spending two years in the Army and met his future wife during a 1951 National Farm Bureau speaking contest in Chicago, which she won as an entrant from Oklahoma. They soon married and moved to the Shirkieville farm.

Bayh won his first election to the state Legislature in 1954; his 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 entered the 1962 Senate race, taking on three-term Republican Sen. Homer Capehart. Bayh boosted his name recognition — and correct pronunciation — around the state with a catchy campaign song opening with the lines “Hey look him over, he’s my kind of guy. His first name is Birch, his last name is Bayh.”

Bayh is survived by his wife Kitty, sons Evan and Christopher, and four grandchildren.

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