Dr. Dora Anne Mills remembers the buzz on the Bowdoin College campus on a spring day in 1979, when fellow student Joan Benoit won the Boston Marathon.
“That evening I was in the cafeteria and she walked in to get dinner,” said Mills. “She had to go behind this wall to get her food, and when she emerged everyone was standing on chairs, clapping, giving her a standing ovation.”
Mills is the former director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and current vice president for clinical affairs at the University of New England. After graduating in 1978 from Mt. Blue High in Farmington, Mills went on to the newly coeducational Bowdoin, where men outnumbered women 3 to 1.
Mills ran cross country and track and skied both Nordic and Alpine. She said things were still evolving as schools tried to bring sports into some kind of gender balance called for under Title IX.
“When I was growing up, boys had Little League and Pee Wee football and all these programs that fed into the high school and college programs,” she said. “I don’t remember there being any girls sports growing up, until I got to junior high. It was Girl Scouts and 4-H. The first time I did any organized sport was eighth-grade field hockey.”
In college, Mills remembers the science department being almost completely populated by men. Not one of her professors of biology, chemistry or physics was a woman.
“The only women faculty members I remember,” she said, “were in Russian literature and psychology.”
Now Mills has a 10-year-old daughter with access to a multitude of sports. Of her five siblings, Mills is the only one who still skis, and she has passed that love of sports to her family. She also jogs regularly.
“I’m still a back-of-the-packer,” she said, “but I wouldn’t be in any pack if it hadn’t been for Title IX. It’s not about Joanie Benoit winning the Boston Marathon, it’s about having a lifelong physical activity that I enjoy. And with skiing, that I can enjoy with my children.”