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Sept. 26, 2020

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Joanne Washburn, WSU pioneer in women’s college sports, has died in Pullman

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PULLMAN — Pioneering sports administrator Joanne Washburn, who spent 39 years at Washington State University and was involved in a landmark lawsuit to bring equality to women’s sports, has died at the age of 83.

The university said Washburn died on Tuesday in Pullman.

“Jo Washburn should be remembered as a giant in college athletics history,” said WSU Director of Athletics Pat Chun. “She fought tirelessly for gender equity and ultimately impacted change that continues to benefit generations of student-athletes.”

Washburn served as women’s athletic director at Washington State from 1965-82. During her time in that role, the women’s athletic program grew to eight varsity sports: volleyball, basketball, field hockey, skiing, tennis, track & field, gymnastics and swimming. Additionally, the annual budget grew from $2,000 to more than $1 million.

Washburn, along with 12 other coaches and 39 student athletes, filed a lawsuit in 1979 against WSU for failing to comply with Title IX, the 1972 federal law mandating gender equity for educational institutions receiving federal financial support. The lawsuit became a landmark women’s rights case, setting a precedent for all public four-year colleges and universities in the state.

Following her time as an administrator, Washburn became a full-time professor of physical education. She retired in 2004.

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