The Department of Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics was formed in July 1976 as a unit within the Division of Student Affairs. It subsequently reported to the chancellor and ceased to exist with the appointment of Dave Hart as vice chancellor and athletics director in September 2011, as the men’s and women’s intercollegiate athletics programs were combined into one entity. Joan Cronan, whose contract as director of Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics was extended until June 30, 2012, served as interim vice chancellor and director of both men’s and women’s athletics between the resignation of Mike Hamilton and the appointment of Dave Hart. The first athletics director for Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics (Gloria Ray) was appointed in 1976.
Women’s athletics was instituted in 1899 with sports such as rowing and tennis, under the direction of Anne Gibson of the women’s physical training staff. The first evidence of any basketball team—men’s or women’s—representing the university in intercollegiate competition is that of the varsity women’s team of 1903. This 12-member squad was the first of an eight-season run, ending in 1910. In 1920 intercollegiate women’s competition began again. But in 1926 women’s intercollegiate basketball was eliminated and other women’s intercollegiate sports followed—in favor of an intramural system that provided competition among classes, sororities, and dormitories. In 1959 East Tennessee State University sponsored an invitational volleyball team, and students in the Physical Education Department asked their instructor, Jean Wells, to take them to the competition. For the first time since 1926, women participated in team intercollegiate athletics, (the women’s intercollegiate rifle team had been formed in 1927), won the tournament, and brought home the first place trophy.
In spring 1960, Nancy Lay, graduate student from the University of Richmond, reestablished the basketball program. Tennis returned in 1963. From 1963 to 1968, Lay and physical education instructor Jo Hobson coached all three (volleyball, basketball, and tennis) women’s intercollegiate sports without additional compensation. There were no athletics scholarships, but one exceptional athlete found an exception—in 1964 and 1965, Ann Baker (Furrow) joined the men’s golf team as the first woman to receive a full athletics scholarship (men’s) at UT.
In 1968 the women’s varsity teams placed themselves under the purview of the Recreation Department, operating as club sports, with Joan Cronan serving as head basketball coach from 1968 to 1970 and coaches and direction continuing to come from the Women’s Physical Education Department. In 1968 also, Tennessee initiated a tennis championship tournament, and in the fall educators organized the Tennessee College Women’s Sports Federation to serve as a governing body to promote women’s sports throughout the state. In 1972, when the Tennessee College Women’s Sports Federation (TCWSF) reorganized itself to become the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), UT joined as one of 260 charter members of the organization.
One year after the 1972 enactment of Title IX of the Higher Education Act, the university accorded the women’s basketball and volleyball squads full recognition—on August 10, 1973. The Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics program officially began in 1976–77, with seven intercollegiate sports (basketball, field hockey, gymnastics, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, and volleyball). In the inaugural year, the staff numbered 17 and a budget of $120,000 served approximately 75 athletes.