RIP, Birch Bayh (1928-2019)

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

Bayh was a U.S. Senator from Indiana from 1962-1980. Prior to that he served in the Indiana legislature from 1954 until his election to the U.S. Senate. In 1959, he was the Indiana House Speaker at the age of 30.

“Born Jan. 22, 1928, in Terre Haute, Ind., Birch Evans Bayh Jr. moved to his maternal grandparents’ farm at the nearby community of Shirkieville after his mother’s 1940 death and his father’s entry into World War II military service. He graduated from Purdue University’s School of Agriculture after spending two years in the Army and met his future wife during a 1951 National Farm Bureau speaking contest in Chicago, which she won as an entrant from Oklahoma. They soon married and moved to the Shirkieville farm.” While serving in the Indiana legislature, Bayh earned a law degree from Indiana University.

Bayh was a man who was at the right place at the right time. Shortly after his election to the U.S. Congress, he was appointed to the Senate Judiciary Committee, even though he’d only been a lawyer for 3 years. This was in 1963, and President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November of that year, succeeded by his vice-president, Lyndon Johnson. “Lyndon B. Johnson’s accession to the presidency was a stark reminder of a flaw in the succession process. There was no method to replace Johnson as vice president, and he had a history of heart disease. The two officials designated by statute as the first and second heirs — the speaker of the House and Senate president pro tem — were elderly and frail. The subcommittee became a vehicle to prominence. Chairman Bayh jumped aboard, becoming the main author and advocate of the 25th Amendment. Ratified in 1967 after protracted controversy, the amendment established clear procedures for appointing a vice president if a vacancy occurred. It also set rules for replacing the president should the incumbent become seriously disabled. “A constitutional gap that has existed for two centuries has been filled,” Mr. Bayh said.”

Bayh wrote the 26th Amendment, which set the voting age at 18, and authored what would have been the 27th, the Equal Rights Amendment. The latter did not pass into law, but Senator Bayh went on to produce Title IX, banning gender discrimination in schools receiving federal support. “Title IX provoked controversy lasting decades, particularly the requirement that schools devote equal resources to male and female athletes. Notre Dame football coach Edward W. “Moose” Krause, an Indiana icon, warned Mr. Bayh, “This thing is going to kill football.” Forty years after Title IX’s enactment, when Mr. Bayh was being honored by female professional basketball players, he recalled the argument he made in the 1970s: “In a country that prides itself on equality, we could not continue to deny 53 percent of the American people equal rights.” Title IX had even an broader impact in classrooms and labs. In an interview, Donna Shalala, Bill Clinton’s secretary of health and human services and now a U.S. congresswoman from Florida, said: “Title IX was a game changer. It created opportunities for women students, faculty, administrators. Without it, you wouldn’t see as many women studying law and medicine — or serving as university presidents.””

Senator Bayh visited Evansville on several occasions, seen below. In the first picture, he was here listening to a campaign speech by Hubert Humphrey, in 1966. In the second, he was participating in a political “roast” of some sort.

U.S. Senator listening to a speech by Vice President Hubert Humphrey in Evansville, IN, 1966. Source: Sonny Brown collection (MSS 228-1745).

U.S. Senator listening to a speech by Vice President Hubert Humphrey in Evansville, IN, 1966. Source: Sonny Brown collection (MSS 228-1745).

U.S. Senator listening to a speech by Vice President Hubert Humphrey in Evansville, IN, 1966. Source: Sonny Brown collection (MSS 228-1745).

Roast of Birch Bayh at the Civic Center/Vanderburgh County Auditorium, 1974. Source: Gregory Smith collection (MSS 034-0074).

Birch Bayh receiving a new pair of boots in Mt. Vernon, IN, 1963. Source: John Doane collection (MSS 022-1879).

Birch Bayh receiving a new pair of boots in Mt. Vernon, IN, 1963. Source: John Doane collection (MSS 022-1879).

After his defeat in 1980, Bayh never ran for office again, although he did stay active in public life. His older son, Evan, was the governor of Indiana from 1989 to 1997.

From farm boy to powerful and influential U.S. Senator—Birch Bayh traveled an eventful road during his 91 years and made a lasting impact on millions of Americans. RIP, good sir!

Campaign posters and buttons for Birch Bayh. Sources: Vanderburgh Democratic Party (MSS 063) and Ralph Gray collections (MSS 293).

Campaign posters and buttons for Birch Bayh. Sources: Vanderburgh Democratic Party (MSS 063) and Ralph Gray collections (MSS 293).

Sources Consulted:

Barrett, Laurence I. “Birch Bayh, Indiana senator who championed Title IX, dies at 91.” Washington Post online, March 14, 2019.

“Former Sen. Birch Bayh, author of Title IX law, dies at age 91.” AP/NBC News online, March 14, 2019.

 

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