Margaret E. “Peg” Covert, a Pioneer For Women’s Athletics at the University

Issue Date: 
March 26, 2007

Dec. 2, 1911 - Dec. 27, 2006

(The following obituary originally appeared in the Jan. 1, 2007, edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and is reprinted by permission.)

Margaret E. “Peg” Covert of Oakland brought women’s sports at the University of Pittsburgh into the modern age, encouraged sports participation by disabled children, and introduced the elegance of modern dance to the University curriculum.

Covert, professor emerita at Pitt, died of pneumonia on Dec. 27, 2006. She was 95.

Covert rose from assistant professor in 1946, the year she joined the Pitt faculty, to full professor and director of intramural and recreational sports by 1953.

Along the way, she led Pitt’s first female cheerleading squad, despite resistance from the dean of women students and the school’s athletic director at the time.

According to a 1998 article by Peter Hart in the University Times, then-Chancellor Edward Litchfield decided it was time for young women to take up the pompons.

“Tom Hamilton [athletic director] was against it. Dean [Helen] Rush was against it. I don’t know if she felt it lowered the university’s prestige or if it wasn’t appropriate for women’s behavior. But Litchfield handled it beautifully,” Covert said in the article.

“He said, ‘Now Dean Rush, we’re not here to decide if we’re going to have cheerleaders. We’re going to have cheerleaders and I’m putting Miss Covert in charge for one year to start it off,’” Covert recalled. “Well, luckily we had 97 girls try out so we had the cream of the crop of the women athletes. And they always dressed well, and were well-behaved, and so there was no comeback.”

Covert, who grew up in Hundred, W.Va., also had a vision for Trees Hall, the current home of Pitt’s department of health and physical activity. She stressed the need for two swimming pools.

“We’re building for the future here,” said Covert. “Let’s not skimp. Let’s do it right. Let’s not call the small gym and pool the women’s gym and pool as it says on the plans.”

Covert started a new program to teach physical education to children with cerebral palsy, along with teaching their parents.

In 1947, she introduced modern dance into the university curriculum.

She also loved to travel, and in 1957 was assigned to handle choreography for the University drama department. As part of her work in that area, Covert arranged to take a student production of Lerner and Loewe’s Brigadoon to military bases in the Azores, Iceland, and Bermuda.

In 1959, she brought fencing to the University. She taught gymnastics, coached field hockey, and built women’s gymnastics, volleyball, and swimming into competitive teams.

Traveling again on sabbatical in 1961, Covert went around the world collecting international folk dance resources and lecturing to physical education students in Australia.

In 1972, she was appointed head of women’s athletics at Pitt.

Covert’s diligence and determination upgraded women’s athletics at Pitt six years before Title IX mandated that women’s sports opportunities be comparable to men’s.

Although she worked hard, said Goldie Edwards, a colleague and close friend for more than 40 years, Covert loved having fun.

“She laughed very easily,” Edwards recalled. “These days there are many people who don’t laugh at all. But she loved to laugh. She could [make puns] easily. You have to be quick to do that. I used to spend every Christmas with her and I remember a time when we laughed uncontrollably.”

Covert is survived by a half-brother, Leland Covert of Shawnee, Colo.