For Women’s History Month: Barbara Forker, Women’s Physical Education, and Title IX

Dr. Forker (at left) teaching a golf course February 19, 1957 (photograph from the Barbara Ellen Forker Papers, RS 10-7-13, box 25, folder 1).

Did you know that the first head of the combined men’s and women’s physical education department (now kinesiology) at Iowa State was a woman, Professor Barbara Ellen Forker?  Dr. Forker was a well respected advocate for women’s physical education throughout her career, and the list of her achievements here at Iowa State and nationally is quite impressive.  This year marks the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX on June 23, 1972.  With Title IX’s 40th anniversary approaching, Dr. Forker instantly sprang to mind as a wonderful faculty member to highlight for this year’s Women’s History Month.

Dr. Forker in 1955 (photograph from University Photograph Collection, 10-7-A, box 782). Wondering what books are on those shelves?  The titles include the expected physical education related books such as Physiology of Muscular Exercise but include others such as Essentials of Reading German, Roget’s Thesaurus, Giant, and The Show Must Go On.

After teaching high school and grade school physical education in her home state of Michigan, Dr. Forker served 22 months in Europe with the American Red Cross during World War II. Dr. Forker began her career at Iowa State College (now University) in 1948, eventually becoming Head of the Women’s Physical Education Department (1958-1974). When the men’s and women’s physical education department were combined to create the Department of Physical Education, Dr. Forker became the first Head (1974-1986). She contributed to the creation, in 1960, of a physical education  major for women here at Iowa State. Dr. Forker was an important part of student groups here on campus, including advisor for NAIADS (synchronized swimming) and “I” Fraternity (honorary for outstanding women athletes). In addition, she taught tennis, golf, swimming, badminton, and bowling.

Dr. Forker (second from left) with other physical education staff, taken around 1950. From left to right: Jane Carswell, Barbara Forker, Virginia Taylor, Germaine Guiot, Harriet Watts, Madge Bowers (photograph from Barbara Ellen Forker Papers, RS 10-7-13, box 25, folder 1).

In addition to her achievements listed above, Dr. Forker also worked with the United States Olympics (1975-1984). President Gerald Ford appointed Dr. Forker as a member of the President’s Commission on Olympic Sports (1975-1977). She also was a United States Delegate in the Second Educationists Session at the International Olympic Academy, in Olympia, Greece (1977), member (1980-1984) of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) Executive Board and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) Education Council, and Chairman (1984) of the United States Olympic Committee Symposium at the Pre-Olympic Scientific Congress in Eugene, Oregon.

Passed on June 23, 1972, Title IX requires (with a few exceptions) gender equity in education programs and activities receiving federal funding (the contents of the law can be found here). Not surprisingly, Forker was concerned about the implementation of Title IX here at Iowa State.  Her papers (Barbara Ellen Forker Papers, RS 10-7-13) contain a written piece detailing reactions she received from a variety of Iowa State administrators during the early years of Title IX. In her words, she sought to receive these reactions “Because I have been frustrated on many occasions to get the show on the road at my university, I decided this would be a good opportunity to find out just exactly what selected members of the administration think has happened as a result of the first printing of Title IX and how do they foresee the future…”  This document is now available online.

In addition, we recently made available a couple speeches by Dr. Forker:  “The Government and Amateur Sports” and “Amateur Sports and the Federal Government”. Very similar in content, these speeches describe the establishment, background, and issues to be addressed by the President’s Commission on Olympic Sports (Dr. Forker was one of the 14 members appointed by the President to be on this commission).

In 1997, Iowa State University renamed the Physical Education for Women (PEW) Building the Barbara E. Forker Building in her honor. Forker is pictured above at the dedication.

As is the case with almost all of our collections, this blog post can only give you a very brief window into the life and work of Barbara Forker. Many of the other documents within the collection, in addition to those described above, will provide a glimpse into both the difficulties and accomplishments of a leader in women’s physical education during the 20th century. If you would like to learn more, please take a look at the finding aid/collection description for the Barbara Ellen Forker Papers. Interested in taking a look at some of the contents of the collection?   Then please come on up to the 4th floor of Parks Library and visit the Special Collections Department (open M-F, 9-4)!

Interested in learning more about women’s history here at Iowa State?  A selection of our collections are listed in our Women’s Collections Subject Guide. We also have a few archival materials available online through Scribd (such as the War Training for Women at Iowa State College) and Digital Collections. In addition, we contributed images of Carrie Chapman Catt’s suffrage buttons (the finding aid to her papers, RS 21/7/3, is located here) to the Women’s Suffrage in Iowa Digital Collection.

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