WASHINGTON (AP) - Joined by former astronaut Sally Ride and Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee, President Clinton hailed the 25th anniversary Tuesday of a law barring sex discrimination in schools.
Clinton also broadened the reach of the law, ordering federal agencies to follow it even though some programs aren't technically covered. The order would apply to schools run by the Defense Department and Bureau of Indian Affairs, as well as the awarding of fellowships and other aid.
"We're here to celebrate the God-given talent of every woman and girl who has been benefited by it," Clinton said at a ceremony attended by successful women in occupations from medicine to firefighting.
The law, Title IX, did not cause women to succeed, Clinton said. "But it did give them the chance to make the most of their abilities."
At Tuesday's event, the women told stories of life before and after Title IX, which is best known for promoting equality in school athletics but was equally important in opening academics.
"I really didn't understand why the coach made the long-jump pit in his back yard," said Joyner-Kersee, winner of six Olympic medals in track and field. She described the ordeal of taking a backseat to boys' sports when she was a child, sometimes forced to practice at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m.
She considered cheerleading as an alternative to sports in those early years.
She was 10 when the law was passed, and years later she received an athletic scholarship at UCLA.
Even first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton had a sports story, talking about how she was limited to half-court basketball because a full-court game was considered to stressful for girls. Mrs. Clinton, a lawyer, remembered, too, how some colleges were closed to her.
Ride, who on June 18, 1983, became the first woman to fly in space, witnessed Title IX as an athlete and as a scientist.
She played tennis at Stanford University, but had no scholarship. "I would have appreciated Title IX being earlier," she told reporters after the event. But since then, Ride has witnessed the addition of women's sports programs at Stanford.
She also mentioned the growing number of women in the space program. "Things have really changed, and Title IX had a lot to do with that," said Ride, a physics professor at the University of California, San Diego, and director of the California Space Institute.
An Education Department study that was released Tuesday noted overall progress for women since Title IX, including increased numbers of women in law and medicine. But the report noted that women still lag behind in math, physical science and engineering.