Birch Bayh

Senator from Indiana, 1963-1980

Biographical Note:

Birch Evans Bayh was born January 22, 1928 in Terre Haute, Indiana. He attended public schools in Indiana; served in the United States Army in Germany from 1946-1948, and after Army service attended Purdue University, graduating with a B.S. in 1951. Following graduation he took over management of his maternal grandparents' farm near Terre Haute.  In 1954 he was elected for the first of three terms to the Indiana General Assembly.  He entered the Indiana University School of Law in Bloomington in 1957, served as Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives in 1959 while completing his law studies, and received his J.D. with distinction in 1960.  In 1962 Bayh ran as a Democrat for the office of United States Senator, narrowly defeating long-time incumbent Republican Senator Homer Capehart.

During his eighteen years in the Senate, Bayh served on the Judiciary Committee, for seventeen of those years as chairman of the Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments.  As such he was a prime mover in the drafting of three amendments to the United States Constitution.  The Twenty-Fifth Amendment, concerning presidential and vice-presidential succession and disability (documented in his book, One Heartbeat Away), and the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, which set the voting age at eighteen rather than the previous twenty-one, were ratified. The third, the Equal Rights Amendment, passed Congress but narrowly failed of ratification by the states.  He also introduced in every Congress a constitutional amendment to abolish the electoral college and allow direct popular election of the President, a cause he continued to pursue after leaving the Senate.

As chair of the Judiciary Committee's Juvenile Delinquency Subcommittee, Bayh was heavily involved in investigation of drug abuse and the drug industry, gun violence, and the abuse of incarcerated juveniles and was a chief architect of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 establishing a separate juvenile justice system.  He was closely involved in the efforts seeking District of Columbia representation in Congress and undertook major efforts to dismantle the monopoly of the oil industry and enncourage alternative energy development, including establishment of and leadership in the National Alternative Fuels Commission, which promoted the development of ethanol.  His service on the Public Works Committee for a decade and then on corresponding subcommittees on the Appropriations Committee led to important work on federal criteria for clean air and clean water regulations and comprehensive legislation for disaster relief preparation before disasters.  He provided leadership within Congress in forming programs for the assistance of disabled citizens and the mentally ill.  Throughout his professional career he championed causes relating to senior citizens, the handicapped, women, and all minorities.  He worked strenuously to increase cancer research and served as chairman of the AIDS Action Council.  He served on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence from 1977 through 1980, chairing its Subcommittee on Intelligence and the Rights of Americans in 1977-1978 and the full committee in 1979-1980. 

The legislative accomplishment for which Bayh is perhaps best known was his co-authorship of Title IX of the Higher Education Act amendments of 1972, mandating equal opportunity for women in all academics and activities, including sports, in educational institutions that receive federal funding.  Formulated in the face of apparently immovable conservative opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, the brief statement of Title IX revolutionized the world of opportunity for America's young women.  Less visible but also revolutionary for higher education was the University and Small Business Patent Procedures Act of 1980, often referred to as the Bayh-Dole Act, which culminated years of efforts by Bayh to reform patent law so that the products of federally funded research could be brought to market.

Bayh ran for reelection in 1980 but was unexpectedly defeated by the Republican candidate Dan Quayle.  Following the election he helped form a law firm in Washington, D.C., served as Chairman of the Institute Against Prejudice and Violence from 1984 through 1994, and was appointed to the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board by President Clinton in 1995.  He practiced law in Washington with the firm Venable, LLC until 2010, when he retired to Easton, Maryland, continuing his efforts in support of direct election of the President and engaging students at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland in discussions of public policy issues and the importance of public service.  He died on March 14, 2019.

The Collection:

The collection contains virtually complete documentation of the operation of a very active and diversified senatorial office, including some committee staff files. Legislative, Indiana, Press, and Political Department tasks overlapped, and staff members moved within these departments and into and out of committee responsibilities as well as the work demanded. Interwoven with these activities are Bayh’s two runs for the Presidential candidacy in 1972 and 1976. There is extensive legislative mail as well as a complete run of press files.

Detailed processing of the collection was supported by a two-year grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission in 2010-2012 and is currently being completed.  There is an overview finding aid for the collection, with links to individual finding aids, which are being added as series are completed.

Research use is possible with adequate advance notice. Contact Kate Cruikshank, Political Papers Specialist, cruiksha@indiana.edu, 812-856-4601.