Former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh, a legend in Indiana politics who authored two amendments to the U.S. Constitution, has died at age 91.
Bayh was surrounded by family at his home in Easton, Maryland, when he died shortly after midnight from pneumonia, his family said in a statement.
Bayh, a Democrat, served four terms in the Indiana House of Representatives, from 1954 to 1962, and three terms in the U.S. Senate, from 1962 to 1981.
The Terre Haute native is known as the only non-founding father to author two amendments to the Constitution: the 25th Amendment, which dealt with presidential and vice presidential succession; and the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.
He also wrote Title IX to the Higher Education Act, landmark legislation that prohibits discrimination based on gender.
"Birch Bayh was a trailblazer who dedicated himself to improving the lives of all Hoosiers," Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said in a written statement. "His remarkable legislative and personal legacy transformed the country and will live on for years to come. I ask Hoosiers around the state to join me and Janet in honoring his incredible service and by keeping the Bayh family in your thoughts and prayers."
Bayh also co-wrote the Bayh-Dole Act, which decentralized management of federally-funded inventions out of Washington, D.C., and into the hands of universities and small companies.
Bayh’s son, Evan Bayh, served as Indiana Gov. from 1989 to 1997 and as U.S. senator from 1999 to 2011.
“He had a natural sympathy for the underdog and the downtrodden,” Evan Bayh said in a written statement. “So that’s why he always tried to champion opportunity and decency for people who are born without a lot of either. My father was an extrovert who was devoted to his fellow citizens and trying to make their lives better–and he succeeded. And I can’t imagine a better legacy.”
The Indiana Senate honored Bayh with a moment of silence during its session Thursday morning. Sen. John Ruckelshaus, R-Indianapolis, also spoke about Bayh on the Senate floor, recalling that his uncle William Ruckelshaus unsuccessfully ran against Bayh for U.S. Senate in 1968.
“He was a good United States senator,” Ruckelshaus said. “He represented the state of Indiana well.”
The liberal Democrat had a back-slapping, humorous campaigning style that helped him win three narrow elections to the Senate starting in 1962, at a time when Republicans won Indiana in four of the five presidential elections. Bayh's hold on the seat ended with a loss to Dan Quayle during the 1980 Ronald Reagan-led Republican landslide.
Bayh (pronounced "by") was the lead sponsor of the landmark 1972 law prohibiting gender discrimination in education—known as Title IX for its section in the Higher Education Act. The law's passage came at a time when women earned fewer than 10 percent of all medical and law degrees and fewer than 300,000 high school girls—one in 27—played sports.
Bayh said the law was aimed at giving women a better shot at higher-paying jobs. He continued speaking in support of Title IX's enforcement for years after leaving Congress.
"It was clear that the greatest danger or damage being done to women was the inequality of higher education," Bayh said in a 2012 interview. "If you give a person an education, whether it's a boy or girl, young woman or young man, they will have the tools necessary to make a life for families and themselves."
Now, women make up more than half of those receiving bachelor's and graduate degrees, and more than 3 million high school girls—one in two—play sports.
Tennis great Billie Jean King, who worked with Bayh on women's rights issues, released a statement with his family Thursday saying the former senator was "one of the most important Americans of the 20th century."
"You simply cannot look at the evolution of equality in our nation without acknowledging the contributions and the commitment Senator Bayh made to securing equal rights and opportunities for every American," she said.
Bayh used his position as head of the Senate's constitutional subcommittee to craft the 25th Amendment on presidential succession and the 26th Amendment setting the national voting age at 18.
The issue of presidential succession was fresh when Congress approved the amendment in 1967. The vice presidency had been vacant for more than a year after President John F. Kennedy's assassination because there was no provision for filling the office between elections.
The amendment led to the presidency of Gerald Ford less than a decade later when Ford first succeeded Spiro Agnew as vice president and then took over the White House after President Richard Nixon's resignation during the Watergate scandal.
Bayh's push to lower the national voting age from 21 to 18 came amid protests over the Vietnam War and objections that Americans dying on battlefields were unable to vote in all states. The amendment won ratification from the states in 1971.
Bayh also was a leading sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have barred discrimination on the basis of gender. It passed Congress but failed to win approval from two-thirds of the states by its 1982 deadline.
Bayh had begun preparing to make a run for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination when his first wife, Marvella, was diagnosed with breast cancer. He dropped that campaign but entered the 1976 presidential campaign, finishing second to Jimmy Carter in the opening Iowa caucuses but then faring poorly in later primaries.
Marvella Bayh gained attention by speaking and making television appearances around the country promoting cancer detection and encouraging research. But her cancer later returned, and she died in April 1979 at age 46, shortly before her memoir recounting her health fight was published.
Bayh sought a fourth Senate term the following year—with their 24-year-old son Evan as campaign manager—but lost to Quayle, then a two-term congressman.
Born on Jan. 22, 1928, in Terre Haute, Indiana, Birch Evans Bayh Jr. moved to his maternal grandparents' farm at the nearby community of Shirkieville after his mother's 1940 death and his father's entry into World War II military service.
He graduated from Purdue University's School of Agriculture after spending two years in the Army and met his future wife during a 1951 National Farm Bureau speaking contest in Chicago, which she won as an entrant from Oklahoma. They soon married and moved to the Shirkieville farm.
Bayh won his first election to the state Legislature in 1954; his son Evan was born the following year. Bayh rose quickly in politics, becoming the Indiana House speaker in 1959 at the age of 30. He earned a law degree from Indiana University, completing law school while serving in the Legislature.
Bayh entered the 1962 Senate race, taking on three-term Republican Sen. Homer Capehart. Bayh boosted his name recognition — and correct pronunciation — around the state with a catchy campaign song opening with the lines "Hey look him over, he's my kind of guy. His first name is Birch, his last name is Bayh."
Bayh was 34 when elected to the Senate and soon became friends with the only senator younger than him: Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy. Bayh and his wife were flying with Kennedy when their small plane crashed near Springfield, Massachusetts, in June 1964. The pilot and a legislative aide were killed, but Bayh pulled Kennedy, who suffered a broken back and other serious injuries, from the wreckage.
After leaving the Senate, Bayh worked as a lawyer and lobbyist in Washington. He remarried in 1982, and he and wife Katherine "Kitty" Helpin had a son, Christopher, who is now a lawyer in Washington.
Bayh largely stayed in the background of Indiana politics as his older son, Evan, was elected to the first of his two terms as governor in 1988. The younger Bayh built a more moderate image than his father, ending his eight years as governor with a high approval rating and then winning his first of two elections to the Senate in 1998.
He didn't seek a third term in 2010, saying the Senate had become too partisan. Evan Bayh launched an unexpected comeback bid in 2016 for the Senate, but he lost to Republican Todd Young.
The elder Bayh seemed to revel in the change brought about from the Title IX law, describing it as the most important legal step for equality since the right of women to vote was guaranteed by the 19th Amendment in 1920.
"There was a soccer field I used to jog around," he once said. "One day, all of a sudden, I realized that half of the players were little girls and half of them were little boys. I realized then that that was, in part, because of Title IX."
Bayh is survived by his wife Kitty, sons Evan and Christopher, and four grandchildren.
Reaction to Bayh's death:
— "Birch Bayh was a trailblazer who dedicated himself to improving the lives of all Hoosiers. His remarkable legislative and personal legacy transformed the country and will live on for years to come." — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb.
— "Birch Bayh is a modern-day founding father. He used his tenure in the Senate to push for substantive and substantial change, including two constitutional amendments and the passage of Title IX." — U.S. Sen. Todd Young.
— "The only person since the Founding Fathers to draft more than one amendment to the Constitution, Senator Bayh devoted his life to championing the rights of all Americans – especially women, people of color, young people, and others whom history had too long pushed to the margins." — Bayh family statement.
— "Sen. Bayh understood that we cannot be a completely free country if some citizens are not given the same rights as others. By playing a vital role in crafting and passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, he showed the country that Indiana can lead the way in making sure all people are guaranteed equality under the law." — Indiana Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane of Anderson.
— "Birch Bayh was a tireless advocate for equality with the rare ability to transcend the prejudices of the moment and see beyond seemingly intractable divisions. He embodied what it means to be a Hoosier: kindness, compassion, common sense, and integrity. We, as a state and as a nation, are forever shaped by his leadership and tenacity." — Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.
— "Birch Bayh was a true statesman who dedicated his life to public service. Generations of Hoosiers have felt the impact of his bold leadership, and he has left an incredible legacy for our state and nation." — U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski.
— "As Indiana's U.S. Senator, Birch Bayh served not only our state, but our entire country. His bold and thoughtful leadership has been felt across generations of young people who have been impacted by his championing of Title IX, voting rights and equal rights — work that remains significant and relevant today in our nation's ongoing social justice dialogue." — Former Indiana First Lady Judy O'Bannon Willsey.
— "At a time when our nation needed strong leaders to help advance progressive ideals, Birch Bayh rose to the challenge, proving himself a fearless champion of those values. His tireless work on behalf of civil rights, women's equality, expanding access to the ballot box, and more have benefited so many and continue to inspire my work in Congress." — U.S. Rep. André Carson.
— "Birch Bayh was driven by a belief in what we could accomplish given equal opportunity. That simple truth belies towering accomplishments. A United States Senator who twice amended the Constitution, father of Title IX, contributor to critical civil rights legislation. His legacy endures every day on college campuses. It endures in the form of equal opportunity, the right to vote and that all Americans deserve justice." — Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody.
— "Though Birch Bayh left his indelible mark on our Constitution, our universities, and the history of the United States Senate, he was first and always a Hoosier." — U.S. Sen. Mike Braun.
— "Birch Bayh never failed to exhibit a gracious and pragmatic approach to public service, listening to all individuals, and working hard every day for a better future for our state and nation. He lived a life dedicated to serving others. May his example continue to lead the way for all current and future public servants." — U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky
— "Indiana has lost one of our most talented statesmen with the passing of Birch Bayh. His service in the Indiana General Assembly and U.S. Congress earned him a national reputation for being a thoughtful and dedicated public servant." — State Sen. Rodric Bray, Senate President Pro Tem.