Maybe Rollin Haffer didn’t know she was making history at the time, yet all these decades later, here was actual proof, inside the New-York Historical Society’s museum, just off Central Park. A summer-long exhibit titled, “Title IX: Activism On and Off the Field.”

Invited to a preview, Haffer walked up to a photo of herself back in her days as a Temple University badminton player.

“It was done in timeline fashion,” Haffer said of the exhibit. “Our case was right at the beginning. It really was the one that set the precedent.”

She’d given the museum the first letter she’d written to an attorney, “the list of complaints we had” against Temple, other artifacts, and some old photos, including one of a Temple-specific timeline, noting how in 1977-78, women made up 42% of the athletes but received 13% of the money spent on athletes. The document, submitted as part of Haffer v. Temple, stated that even excluding football, the men’s athletic budget in 1978 exceeded the women’s budget 3.6 to 1.

“When we filed the case back in 1980, I had no clue that it could affect anything except at Temple University,” Haffer said recently over the phone. “It just wasn’t on my radar at all. If we could improve the conditions for female student-athletes at Temple University, that was wonderful. That’s what we wanted to do.”

By the time the case was settled several years later, Haffer said, the suit helped “really define Title IX. It wasn’t just scholarships. It wasn’t just uniforms.”

And it wasn’t just Temple.

“I think all eyes were on Temple,” said Carole Oglesby, a Temple professor from 1975-2001. “When people now start the recitation of [gender-equity] court suits, not everybody mentions Haffer vs. Temple. It was the first big one.”

Haffer vs. Temple University was the first case to make clear that if schools deprived women of equal opportunities and treatment, they were going to be held accountable,” said Arthur Bryant, one of the attorneys on the case.

By now, such words seem obvious, even if the college sports landscape still is pitted with gender-equity battles. But when this suit was filed, Title IX wasn’t even being universally applied to college sports. In 1984, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Grove City College v. Bell, ruling by a 6-3 majority that when students receive federally funded grants, Title IX requirements only applied to the specific program or activity that was benefited by the grants, that Title IX requirements do not apply across the entire institution.

In 1988, Congress passed the Civil Rights Restoration Act, and then overrode President Ronald Reagan’s veto of it, dramatically expanding the scope of Title IX. If institutions took federal funds, all departments must adhere to Title IX. As a result, plaintiffs in the Haffer vs. Temple case asked the court to allow all their complaints to be covered by Title IX, in addition to state and federal constitutional claims. The case was settled that year.

Haffer had stayed with the class-action lawsuit after graduating from Temple, a test case watched all over the country, with arguments made about distribution of funds, athletic scholarships, facilities, travel, recruiting, “even specially prepared cafeteria food,” as The Inquirer noted.

“I think it was the opening [Title IX] shot for the National Women’s Law Center,” Oglesby said of the attorneys who worked with Haffer and the other plaintiffs from the start.

“People were just fed up,” Haffer says now of what female athletes saw as unequal treatment. “You think you’re going to be competing against other teams. You don’t think you’re going to be competing against your own university.”

Haffer had gotten involved in a student-athlete committee.

“It seemed that no matter what the topic was supposed to be in the meeting, it always ended up with talking about why do we only get six dollars for three meals when we went away and the football players get steak dinners and stay in a hotel before home games?” Haffer said.

The work began with attorneys. “I went around to each team and we literally voted on whether we wanted to sue Temple University,” Haffer said. “It wasn’t going to be Rollin Haffer vs. Temple University. It was going to be class action. It was almost unanimous.”

But Haffer, as a central organizer, was the face of it, including for football players, as she remembers it.

“Inside McGonigle Hall, it was afternoon, I was just running,” Haffer said of her most memorable encounter. “I came around the corner, to the football team. … They did not separate so that I could run through. They surrounded me.”

The words she remembers: “Yeah, she’s the troublemaker. ... She’s trying to take our money.”

Haffer said she left and immediately called one of the attorneys handling the case.

“The next day, the athletic director called me and apologized,” Haffer said.

Another time, Haffer said, she was standing by the training room, the football team down on the floor of McGonigle Hall, “a football hit me on the head. Whether or not you want to say it was by accident or on purpose, that’s open to interpretation.”

Of course, so much is open to interpretation. Does a male team that always loses money deserve better treatment because it receives far more publicity for the university? Was Temple that unfair to Haffer herself overall? Could she have gotten an out-of-state tuition-only badminton scholarship anywhere else?

Back then, Temple still was making the argument that more men wanted to play sports than women. The fact we don’t hear that argument much anymore may itself be one of the great impacts of those early Title IX battles.

Why did Temple settle? There had been nine years of changes already, said John Langel, who joined Temple’s legal team in 1988.

“They wanted to be forward-looking,” Langel said of the plaintiffs and their legal case. “We also wanted to create a settlement that would work for the future.”

If that sounds like spin, understand that Langel himself since has been an important legal representative for female athletes fighting for gender equality, representing the U.S. women’s soccer team and later the U.S. women’s national hockey team.

“He changed the game for us. He is the person behind the scenes who was the architect of changing the trajectory of popularity in our sport,” Julie Foudy, captain of the landmark 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup soccer team, once said about Langel. “He forced U.S. Soccer to pay attention to us. He had the vision to say we should do more with these women.”

With the Temple case, each step was a battlefield. Oglesby said that as courts kept refusing to toss the class-action suit as it rose in the federal court system, Temple “took steps to try to address the grievances. Athletic policy was changing dramatically. Finally, when they settled out — by that time, the women athletes had won most of the things they had said were wrong.”

The settlement called for Temple to provide women scholarship funds reflecting the percentage of women among those participating in sports at the school. The rowing team was given more funds to “become competitive.” The addition of a women’s soccer team eventually became part of the settlement.

No damages were awarded to the plaintiffs. Sports have come and gone since the settlement. There is no more baseball team or softball team. Current administrators aren’t all even familiar with the name Rollin Haffer. The varsity badminton team that Haffer played on is long gone. The school currently lists seven varsity men’s programs and 11 for women.

Bryant remembers Temple trying all sorts of legal strategies in the years before a settlement was reached, including arguing that they didn’t have separate teams, but “actually coed” teams.

“They would sort of try anything, however ridiculous, to avoid accountability and treating women equally, and they couldn’t get away with it,” Bryant said.

Bryant himself is an important figure nationally in Title IX litigation, involved in all sorts of milestone cases. In recent years, Bryant has been back representing athletes claiming Title IX discrimination, including last year at La Salle University, when La Salle agreed to provide flights, including any chartered flights, “equitably” to female and male athletes, plus would ensure that “women’s and men’s teams are given equal access to scheduling and weight room time” and would provide equitable allotments for team gear, medical services, and meals.

If all that sounds familiar to Haffer, she isn’t uplifted by the continuing fights over not having to stay four to a room on the road, that sort of thing she remembers well.

“I thought by 2022 we would have true equality,” Haffer said.

Haffer does believe her actions made a difference at Temple, where staffing for women’s sports increased, some of it as part of the settlement.

“To make a difference, you have to make a lot of noise,” Haffer said.

There were sacrifices, she said. She believes maybe the reason she had trouble finding a job as a physical education teacher right out of college was from the notoriety of the case. She eventually found that job on Long Island where she grew up, and still is at it.

“The people who are most directly involved pay a price,” Oglesby said. “There’s a general good that emerges, but the individual pays a price.”

Every once in a while, Haffer said, she’ll get a call from somebody who is referred to her, or the time a friend whose children were going to a public school in Connecticut called to say she believed there to be inequities in how teams were treated in that district. Haffer was asked, “Do you think we have a case?”

Her answer was to go for it.

“I believe she threw Haffer v. Temple University out there,” Haffer said. “I believe things got better.”

Overall, she said, “I think Temple’s case was a stepping stone for other cases. There have been tremendous changes.”

She remembers having “tunnel vision” about trying to address changes.

“Haffer stubbornness, Haffer tenacity,” Haffer said. “It’s in my genes. Once you see a wrong and you want to right it, you go to all lengths. That’s part of my gene makeup.”

And part of the history of Title IX as it pertains to college sports, officially.