Historical Markers
Genevieve Blatt Historical Marker
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Genevieve Blatt

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
Riverfront Park at Liberty Street (one block north of State St.), Harrisburg

Dedication Date:
October 12, 2000

Behind the Marker

Beyond all others, two moments changed the landscape of American sports. The first was the moment Jackie Robinson crossed baseball's color line in 1947. Racially integrating the National Pastime proved an enormous stepping stone toward creating a more racially integrated society. The second was the passage of marker Title IX of the Department of Labor's Educational Amendments of 1972 banning gender discrimination in the nation's schools. Both, in their ways, have been controversial.

Nine members of the Basketball team pose with inscribed play ball. The uniforms include a PCW arm band.
The Pennsylvania College for Women's basketball team, Pittsburgh, PA, 1907.
In retrospect, much of Title IX seems self evident. In public education, both boys and girls should be entitled equal access to all that schools have to offer, both in the classroom and beyond it. It was precisely what beyond the classroom meant that became contentious, especially when the interpretation extended to sports.

Traditionally, girls" athletic programs were, at best, step-sisters to the more favored boys" programs, particularly in the revenue-earning glory sports like football and basketball. But times were changing. Women of all ages were questioning possibility and opportunity. What would happen if a girl wanted to try out for a boys" team? And what if she made it? And what about money? If funds were to be allotted to girls" programs, wouldn't that come out of–and, in the end, hurt–the boys" programs? Title IX would address that.

It was enacted when the women's movement was on an upswing, and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Constitution seemed well on its way to ratification. In 1971, Pennsylvania even passed its own state ERA. But with the legalization of abortion in 1973, much of the energy that had been directed toward insuring the federal adoption of the ERA and full implementation of Title IX were diverted toward keeping a woman's right to choose intact against a large, vocal opposition.

It was against this background that the Commonwealth, invoking Title IX, filed a sex-discrimination suit against Pennsylvania's private and powerful Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA). The organized athletic opportunities then available to girls were, at best, dismal, and decidedly unequal. The PIAA also stood firmly against any notions of girls competing against or practicing with boys in any sport.

Genevieve Blatt in her judicial robe.
Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court judge Genevieve Blatt, circa 1972.
In 1974, the case finally reached the state's Commonwealth Court, one of Pennsylvania's two appellate courts, and Judge Genevieve Blatt, writing for the majority, made it quite clear where the court came down on the issue. Holding against the PIAA, she insisted that its by-laws ran counter to the state's ERA, chastised all discrimination against women based on physicality, and reinforced the dictum that separate but equal wasn't very equal at all. "Even where separate teams are offered for boys and girls in the same sport," she wrote, "the most talented girls may still be denied the right to play at that level of competition which their ability might otherwise permit them."

Hers was a strong stance, but certainly not surprising to anyone who knew Genevieve Blatt. Beneath her flowered hats, a steely resolve blossomed. It had to. Politics was a man's world when she entered it. To survive, even thrive in it, as she had done, "The First Lady of Pennsylvania Politics" was all too aware that that she had to be at least as strong and as capable as any man she encountered.

Born in 1913, in East Brady, northeast of Pittsburgh, Blatt became transfixed by politics when she wrote an essay on the U.S. Constitution in high school. After earning two degrees in economics at the University of Pittsburgh, she went on to Pitt's law school, graduating in 1937. While still there, she attended the 1936 Democratic National Convention as a delegate, casting the first vote from the floor to renominate President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She then served as chief examiner for Pittsburgh's Civil Service Commissioner, and later as city solicitor. In 1947, she helped found Americans for Democratic Action.

In 1954, she became the first woman elected to statewide office, as Secretary of Internal Affairs, and was re-elected twice. In 1964, she won a closely contested primary for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate, the first woman from Pennsylvania so nominated, but lost the general election to powerful incumbent Hugh Scott, who then rose to lead the Republican party in the upper house. Blatt then broke another gender barrier. In 1972 she became the first woman to sit on the Commonwealth Court, when Governor Milton J. Shapp appointed her to fill an unexpired term. She won election to the seat on her own in 1973, then became a senior judge after her re-election in 1983. She retired in 1993, and died three years later.

"For three generations of public service in this state and nation," said Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed on her death, "she has been a role model. With her passing, an era when civility and inclusiveness that were the hallmarks of her public service comes to an end."

But her legacy continues to flourish -and indeed renew itself - whenever a young woman goes out for a team, receives an athletic scholarship, sets a record, wins a championship, sees her accomplishments extolled on the sports page, or only dreams of those possibilities. Once that would have seemed extraordinary. Not any more. Genevieve Blatt made sure of that.
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