Campus Leadership

On, Alumnae: Kit Saunders-Nordeen

A champion of Title IX, Saunders-Nordeen became the UW’s first women’s athletic director in 1974. UW Archives dn05052510

As the first UW women’s athletic director (1974 to 1990), Kit Saunders-Nordeen MS’66, PhD’77 helped open the door for women to participate in intercollegiate athletics.

She began her administrative career as the coordinator of the UW’s Women’s Recreation Association. When Title IX was enacted in 1972, Saunders-Nordeen became the focal point of meetings where advocates for women’s sports and dissenters often clashed. It was not an easy position, but her quiet, tenacious leadership won others to the cause.

When the UW Athletic Board approved varsity status for women’s sports in 1974, Saunders-Nordeen became the first athletic director for women. Supervising the 12-sport program, she oversaw the transition of Wisconsin women’s athletics from the recreation level to intercollegiate status. In 1983, she was named an associate athletic director for men and women, and she earned the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the National Association of College Women Athletic Administrators in 2006.

“In the beginning,” Saunders-Nordeen has reflected, “the major obstacle for incorporating women’s athletics was a question of educating people and their attitudes — letting them know and really believe that we were serious, and that we were here to stay. Then later on, the most serious obstacle was competing for scarce resources. … But the most significant thing for women’s athletics to happen ever was Title IX.”

As part of the On Wisconsin women’s issue, see other UW alumnae you oughta know.

Published in the Summer 2019 issue


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