By Geoff Hunt, Audio and Visual Curator
Before Baylor University had the Lady Bears, we had the Bearettes, and before Kim Mulkey, there was Olga Fallen. When Fallen came to Baylor in September 1956, her specialties were dance and swimming. Yet over the course of her career at Baylor, she taught and coached women—then called the Bearettes—in sports ranging from bowling to tennis, and she served as the head basketball and softball coach from 1974–79.
Most importantly, however, she forged the trail for women’s athletics in the newly created role of Women’s Athletics Coordinator from 1972–79. Scholars interested in women’s athletics, Title IX, and more will find a great resource in the Olga Fallen papers, which are nearly ready for research use here at The Texas Collection.
Fallen served during a dynamically changing period for women’s athletics. When she started at Baylor as an assistant professor of physical education, the women’s athletics program resided solely in the physical education department—Athletics with a capital “A” was for men. Then the equal rights movement came along in the 1970s to advocate for equality between the sexes, and Title IX was enacted to give women’s athletic programs an equal share of the resources needed to function on an equal level with the men’s programs.
Fallen was in the right place at the right time to promote her passion for women’s sports. Women’s athletics at Baylor (and many other universities) historically had less coaching staff, financial resources, facilities, and scholarship opportunities than did the men’s sports program. The work to level the playing field was difficult—many objected that Title IX would cause athletic programs to go broke. Fallen’s reply in a 1975 interview was that “the bill [Title IX] means women should get equal opportunity, not equal funding… If they gave me the same amount of money that they gave the men, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.”
Fallen definitely was accustomed to working on a slim budget—when Fallen began her responsibilities at Baylor, the women’s athletics department ran on a budget of a mere $750. But by 1979, when Fallen left her position as athletic coordinator and coaching duties, the department operated on a budget of tens of thousands of dollars, according to an April 4, 1979 article in the Baylor Lariat. Additionally, by this time the women had their own practice field and gym, the Rena Marrs McLean Gymnasium.
But Fallen wasn’t just an administrator. As a coach, Fallen had a history of success in winning games and in recruiting some top players to the Baylor women’s sports program. For example, in 1973, the first scholarship was given to a female athlete at Baylor University—Suzie Snider Eppers, who came from nearby Robinson High School. Eppers finished her four years at Baylor with an accumulated 3,861 points and was named to Kodak’s All-American team. In doing so, she became the university’s first basketball All-American since 1948. From 1972–1978, Fallen’s win/loss record for the women’s basketball team was an impressive 140-47. Additionally, the team made several trips to the AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) basketball nationals during this period.
Forty years after Title IX and after years of striving to achieve equality in women’s sports, the Lady Bears across Baylor Athletics have gone above and beyond, showing the strong foundation Fallen lay for women’s athletics. With the Lady Bears Basketball team’s 40-0 win/loss record and NCAA National Championship, and the Equestrian Hunter Seat team’s NCEA National Championship, 2012 is off to a great start. Olga Fallen would be so proud of today’s Lady Bears!
If you’re interested in a quick history of the Lady Bears basketball team, Texas Monthly wrote one after the 2005 championship. Olga Fallen got things started for women’s basketball at Baylor, but it hasn’t been an easy road. And see the Flickr slideshow below for more photos! (Mouse over the picture and click in the bottom right corner to make the slideshow full-screen.)
Update (May 7, 2012): The finding aid for the Olga Fallen Collection [PDF] is complete! Check it out to get an idea of the kinds of materials you might find in her papers.
Update #2 (May 11, 2012): Dr. Nancy Goodloe, a former Bearette, coach, and athletic trainer in the women’s programs (1965-76), is working on a book about the development of the women’s intercollegiate athletic program at Baylor University. She’s doing research at The Texas Collection but also wants to hear from fellow Bearettes and Lady Bears of the 1970-90s. Nancy has a few questions she’d like Baylor female athletes to address—and she wants to hear your stories and anecdotes too! Your voice will bring this project to life!
Nancy will be in touch with you to get the necessary permission if she wants to use your story in her book. You can answer her questions in the comment section below—we’d love to get a conversation going! If you prefer to share your story privately, you can e-mail Nancy. Thanks for your support of this project!
1. Were you a scholarship athlete at Baylor? When? What kind of financial aid did you receive for being an athlete? What sport did you play?
2. Why did you choose to attend Baylor?
3. What did it mean to you as a student to be a female athlete at Baylor?
4. What does it mean to you now to have left this legacy for current and future female athletes?