Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Breaking News

Bernice Sandler, The Face Of Title IX, Dies at 90

Bernice Sandler, widely credited with launching the campaign that eventually led to the Title IX laws banning sex discrimination in educational programs, died on January 5 at age 90.

Sandler, who went by “Bunny,” wasn’t observant, but as her health declined, she toyed with the idea of having a Jewish funeral. In the end, she opted to have a non-religious ceremony.

When Sandler traveled to from Washington to California to spend [Rosh Hashanah](https://forward.com/schmooze/320610/rosh-hashana/ “Rosh Hashanah”) with her daughter, she went to synagogue to hear the choir — she loved that it was led by a female cantor.

“I know she was very fond of my cantor and admired her, and they talked several times when she would visit,” said Sandler’s eldest daughter, Deborah. “My mom just loved seeing a female cantor up there on the bimah. She just thought that was the best thing.”

Deborah thought it was funny to talk about her mother in a Jewish context — she rarely thought about her in that manner. Sandler wasn’t religious; Deborah would call her a secular Jew, although she also considered herself an atheist. Nevertheless, Sandler always saw herself as Jewish.

“She was certainly proud to be Jewish, and always identified as Jewish, and I think very strongly so. Just not in a religious manner,” Deborah said.

Bernice Sandler in 2013, when she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame Image by Courtesy of Deborah Jo Sandler

Sandler was born in Brooklyn on March 3, 1928. Her parents came to America in the early 1900s — her father was from Lublin, Poland, and her mother from Germany. They didn’t have an observant household, although her father, a businessman, came from a long line of rabbis.

“I think that was kind of a point of pride, because it was not only the religious thing, but the scholarship thing,” Deborah said.

Sandler received two degrees in psychology and earned a PhD in counseling from the University of Maryland in 1969. Even with a doctorate, she was passed over for several academic positions because she was a woman, The Washington Post reported.

In her frustration, she began investigating and found an executive order signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson banning sex discrimination by organizations with federal contracts — which applied to many universities and colleges. Her efforts led to the first federal investigation of sex discrimination on campuses.

Even after Title IX passed, Sandler continued her activism for gender equality in the classroom, and devoted most of her life to ending discrimination that held women back in academia. In 2013, she was inducted into National Women’s Hall of Fame.

“I will tell you one thing that I think she got from Judaism, although I don’t know if this occurred to her,” Deborah said. “She had a really strong sense of what’s right, and morality, and doing justice. That’s such a Jewish value.”

Bernice married her Jerrold Sandler in 1952, but they divorced in 1978. She’s survived by two daughters, Deborah Sandler and Emily Sanders, and three grandchildren.

Several weeks ago, Deborah told her mother that her female cantor was most likely going to become her congregation’s next rabbi. Sandler was “delighted.”

“I don’t think she ever let go of identifying as Jewish,” Deborah said. “There’s a lot of ways to be Jewish.”

Alyssa Fisher is a news writer at the Forward. Email her at [email protected]

Engage

  • SHARE YOUR FEEDBACK

  • UPCOMING EVENT

    SKY & SCULPTURE

    Hybrid: Online and at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan

    Oct 2, 2022

    6:30 pm ET · 

    A Sukkah, IMKHA, created by artist Tobi Kahn, for the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan is an installation consisting of 13 interrelated sculpted painted wooden panels, constituting a single work of art. Join for a panel discussion with Rabbi Joanna Samuels, Chief Executive Director of the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan, Talya Zax, Innovation Editor of the Forward, and Tobi Kahn, Artist. Moderated by Mattie Kahn.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.