Billie Jean King triumphs in “Battle of the Sexes”
On September 20, 1973, in a highly publicized “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match, top women’s player Billie Jean King, 29, beats Bobby Riggs, 55, a former No. 1 ranked men’s player. Riggs (1918-1995), a self-proclaimed male chauvinist, had boasted that women were inferior, that they couldn’t handle the pressure of the game and that even at his age he could beat any female player. The match was a huge media event, witnessed in person by over 30,000 spectators at the Houston Astrodome and by another 50 million TV viewers worldwide. King made a Cleopatra-style entrance on a gold litter carried by men dressed as ancient slaves, while Riggs arrived in a rickshaw pulled by female models. Legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell called the match, in which King beat Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. King’s achievement not only helped legitimize women’s professional tennis and female athletes, but it was seen as a victory for women’s rights in general.
READ MORE: When Billie Beat Bobby
King was born Billie Jean Moffitt on November 22, 1943, in Long Beach, California. Growing up, she was a star softball player before her parents encouraged her to try tennis, which was considered more ladylike. She excelled at the sport and in 1961, at age 17, during her first outing to Wimbledon, she won the women’s doubles title. King would rack up a total of 20 Wimbledon victories, in singles, doubles and mixed doubles, over the course of her trailblazing career. In 1971, she became the first female athlete to earn more than $100,000 in prize money in a single season. However, significant pay disparities still existed between men and women athletes and King lobbied hard for change. In 1973, the U.S. Open became the first major tennis tournament to hand out the same amount of prize money to winners of both sexes.
In 1972, King became the first woman to be chosen Sports Illustrated’s “Sportsperson of the Year” and in 1973, she became the first president of the Women’s Tennis Association. King also established a sports foundation and magazine for women and a team tennis league. In 1974, as a coach of the Philadelphia Freedoms, one of the teams in the league, she became the first woman to head up a professional co-ed team.
The “mother of modern sports” retired from tennis with 39 Grand Slam career titles. She remained active as a coach, commentator and advocate for women’s sports and other causes. In 2006, the USTA National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open, was renamed in King’s honor. During the dedication ceremony, tennis great John McEnroe called King “the single most important person in the history of women’s sports.”
The 1973 match was the subject of a 2017 movie starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell.
Billie Jean King triumphs in “Battle of the Sexes”
September 21, 2021
A&E Television Networks
September 15, 2021
Original Published Date
November 24, 2009BY HISTORY.COM EDITORS
FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn’t look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.
ALSO ON THIS DAY
At the Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea on September 20, 1988, American diver Greg Louganis wins the gold medal on the springboard despite nearly knocking himself unconscious during a qualifying round dive. With the improbable victory, Louganis—who won gold medals in the …read more
Spanish forces under Pedro Menéndez de Avilés capture the French Huguenot settlement of Fort Caroline, near present-day Jacksonville, Florida. The French, commanded by Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere, lost 135 men in the first instance of colonial warfare between European powers in …read moreCRIME2012Amish convicted in beard-cutting attacks
16 members of a dissident Amish group in Ohio are convicted of federal hate crimes and conspiracy for forcibly cutting the beards and hair of fellow Amish with whom they had religious differences. The government classified the ruthless attacks as hate crimes because beards and …read moreEXPLORATION1519Magellan sets sail from Spain
Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan sets sail from Spain in an effort to find a western sea route to the rich Spice Islands of Indonesia. In command of five ships and 270 men, Magellan sailed to West Africa and then to Brazil, where he searched the South American coast for a …read moreART, LITERATURE, AND FILM HISTORY1946First Cannes Film Festival
The first annual Cannes Film Festival opens at the resort city of Cannes on the French Riviera. The festival had intended to make its debut in September 1939, but the outbreak of World War II forced the cancellation of the inaugural Cannes. The world’s first annual international …read moreU.S. PRESIDENTS1881Chester Arthur becomes third president to serve in one year
Chester Arthur is inaugurated on September 20, 1881, becoming the third person to serve as president in that year. The year 1881 began with Republican Rutherford B. Hayes in office. Hayes served out his first and only term and officially turned over the reins of government to …read more
Sign up now to learn about This Day in History straight from your inbox.SIGN UPWESTWARD EXPANSION1806The returning Lewis and Clark reach the first white settlement on the Missouri
On September 20, 1806, after nearly two-and-a-half years spent exploring the western wilderness, the Corps of Discovery arrived at the frontier village of La Charette, the first white settlement they had seen since leaving behind the outposts of the eastern settlements in 1804. …read moreART, LITERATURE, AND FILM HISTORY1878Upton Sinclair is born
Upton Sinclair, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and reformer, is born in Baltimore, Maryland. Sinclair came from a once well-to-do Southern family that had suffered reverses. When he was 10, the family moved to New York. Starting at age 15, he earned money writing dime novels, …read moreNATURAL DISASTERS & ENVIRONMENT2002Avalanche thunders into Russian village
A glacial avalanche in Russia buries a village on September 20, 2002, killing more than 100 people. The North Ossetia area of Russia was hard hit by floods in June 2002. These floods, along with an early and hot summer, proved to be a precursor to a much larger disaster in …read moreU.S. PRESIDENTS1963Kennedy proposes joint mission to the moon
An optimistic and upbeat President John F. Kennedy suggests that the Soviet Union and the United States cooperate on a mission to mount an expedition to the moon. The proposal caught both the Soviets and many Americans off guard. In 1961, shortly after his election as president, …read moreAMERICAN REVOLUTION1777Redcoats kill sleeping Americans in Paoli Massacre
On the evening of September 20, 1777, near Paoli, Pennsylvania, General Charles Grey and nearly 5,000 British soldiers launch a surprise attack on a small regiment of Patriot troops commanded by General Anthony Wayne in what becomes known as the Paoli Massacre. Not wanting to …read more