The Doss Equality in Education Act of 1897 was a Progressive-era reform law passed through the still-conservative Democratic Congress in 1897, pushed heavily by President John Rockefeller and Senator George William Doss of Maryland, both Democratic heavyweights. As university attendance had sagged in the 1890's depression and many public institutions were on the verge of closing, Rockefeller's government had poured millions of dollars of federal money into state institutions, a practice upheld in 1895's Patton v. United States.
A liberal bipartisan faction influenced heavily by the growing populist wing of the Democratic Party, the progressive wing of the National Party and the spike in power of women's rights organizations in the 1890's eventually decided to pass a much-debated and controversial law that would deny any state university that received federal money from breaching the laws of the federal government and discriminating against persons equal under the law. The law passed after a Democratic filibuster and was signed by Rockefeller in the fall of 1897, and within five years the female student population at public universities nationwide had multiplied tenfold.
The law was upheld as Constitutional in 1900 during University of Michigan v. United States, and in later years came to be the legal basis for 1917's Franklin v. Mississippi landmark ruling on the status of black men and women. The law, while only meant to be applied to universities that denied women access to education, soon came to be the basis of civil rights under the guise of federalism for decades to come, and is regarded as one of the most influential and important laws ever passed in the history of the United States.