At age 11, Grant began playing netball, a rough of equivalent of basketball without backboards, in Scotland. Later, she helped form a national governing body for female field hockey players in Canada. In 1968, she arrived at Iowa, where she obtained a Ph.D. in sports administration. She also discovered unexpectedly and disappointedly that athletic opportunities for female athletes in the United States felt as claustrophobic as the underground shelter in which she had endured World War II.
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In 1969, in a story Grant frequently recalled, a field house on Iowa’s campus was to be built with fees paid by male and female students. But architectural plans excluded locker rooms and bathrooms for women, who were not to be allowed into the building. She said she was told that women lacked interest in sports.
“And I’m sure that was the trigger that made me a feminist,” Grant told Ellyn Bartges in 2009 in an interview for the Oral History Project at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. “I mean, I just — that blew me away.”
Grant laughed and continued: “I’m thinking, ‘The greatest democracy in the world, that’s what the U.S. always claims to be. Well, it’s only for a minority of the population because women are the majority here.’ So that was the start of a real understanding of how this world works.”
She had intended to return to Canada but, instead, remained in Iowa and set out to change these disparities over more than three decades as an administrator and professor. In 1973, a forward-thinking male university president, Willard L. Boyd, known as Sandy, named Grant as the athletic director of women’s sports at Iowa at a salary of $14,000, making her one of the first women in the country to hold the title.
She held the job until 2000, marshaling a dozen sports that won 27 Big Ten Conference championships, then taught courses until 2006. According to The Athletic, Grant grew the women’s sports budget from $3,000 to nearly $7 million. And in her unflagging pursuit of equality for women, she was not allergic to showmanship and mischief.