Patricia Bostrom is considered the greatest women’s tennis player in UW history, but it’s her role as a pioneer for gender equality in college sports that she is most proud of.
Patricia Bostrom is considered the greatest women’s tennis player in University of Washington history, but it’s her role as a pioneer for gender equality in college sports that she is most proud of and for which she is often remembered.
Bostrom won a Pac-8 title and a national mixed college doubles title as a Husky, then battled UW (and won) over the inequality in the men’s and women’s tennis programs.
International Women’s Day is Friday, and offers a chance to reflect on the continued movement for women’s rights. Thanks to the efforts of Bostrom and other Title IX pioneers, women’s collegiate athletics have changed dramatically since her days at Washington.
Undoubtedly because of her victories both on and off the court, Bostrom is one of 12 who will be inducted into the Pac-12 Hall of Honor next Friday. Also in that group is former Washington State baseball star John Olerud.
“I was extremely surprised, extremely excited and extremely humbled,” Bostrom said of learning she was entering the Hall of Honor.
But there is no doubt Bostrom, 68, belongs there.
She grew up in an era when women did not have equal opportunities in athletics. Raised in West Seattle, she became a junior tennis star, then worked out with the Chief Sealth tennis team but was not allowed to compete even though she was better than the boys.
She started at UW in 1969, and while the Huskies had a women’s team, she quickly learned that it was a much different experience than playing on the men’s team. It began with coaching, she said, as “the men had Bill Quillian, a great coach who had played on the international circuit, and we had a graduate student as our coach who didn’t know a lot about tennis.”
“There were huge discrepancies,” she said. “We had no uniforms. The men would fly to the matches, we would take our cars to the matches. The men stayed in hotels and we would sleep on the floors of friends and family members. The women’s program was basically not funded as it was pre-Title IX. There were great injustices between the situations that continued to gnaw at me.”
So she decided to do something about it. She not only wanted equality between the programs, she wanted the right to try out for the men’s team and play for Quillian.
She met with attorney Don Cohan who, after listening to Bostrom’s story, said something she will never forget.
“He leaned across his desk, and I’ll never forget it, and he said, ‘I will take your case for free,’ ” she said.
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In the pre-trial hearing, Bostrom said, Cohan was asked what would they do if the school did not agree to having equitable programs and allowing Bostrom to try out for the men’s team.
Cohan said he would seek an injunction that would prevent the school from competing in all athletics, including football.
“Boy, the room was quiet,” Bostrom said. “But I have to hand it to the University of Washington, because two weeks later, the University contacted us and said, ‘You were right, we were wrong and the women’s program is horribly underfunded.’”
The school promised to work on making men’s and women’s programs equal, and gave Bostrom the chance to try out.
That she lost to Bill Carlyon 6-4, 6-2 for a spot on men’s team is almost beside the point. She had helped instigate change, and later that year Title IX was passed, requiring educational institutions to provide equal opportunities in any educational activity, regardless of gender.
“The athletes, we pushed the envelope at that time,” Bostrom said. “We were told don’t rock the boat. Fortunately, I did not listen to that.”
Bostrom graduated from UW in just over three years, then started a successful pro career, rising as high as No. 5 in the world in doubles in 1978 and No. 35 in singles. She excelled in mixed doubles and competed against some of the greatest players of all time, including Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg.
She then spent several years in World Team Tennis before it folded in 1979, and after playing at Wimbledon, at 28 she decided to give up pro tennis to go to law school at Southern Methodist.
She returned to the Seattle area after getting her law degree and is in her 34th year in the profession, running the Bostrom Law Offices in Seattle.
She marvels at how much things have changed for women in sports. When she won the mixed colleges doubles title in 1971, she had to pay all her expenses to compete. That would be unheard of today.
Her role in helping bring about the changes is what she is most proud of athletically.
“When I look back on it, I was only 20 years old, and I realized it was not fair that there was injustice between the men’s and women’s programs at the University of Washington,” she said. “And I am proud that I had the courage to stand up and say this is not right and things need to change. I give speeches on Title IX now and I always tell people to have courage, and if you see injustice, don’t be silent.
“I look at all the good that has occurred since Title IX and it’s just amazing.”