Life Story: Billie Jean King (1943- )

Activist Athlete

The story of a tennis champion and champion for equality.

Billie Jean Moffitt playing tennis in Long Beach, CA

Billie Jean Moffitt playing tennis in Long Beach, CA, ca. 1957. New-York Historical Society Library.

Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King, April, 2, 1977, Family Circle Magazine Cup tournament at Hilton Head Island. Kathy Willens/Associated Press.

Suggested Activities

  • Billie Jean’s life and career coincided with the wider women’s liberation movement. Connect her life story to other resources in this section, including the life story of Bella Abzug and the testimony of Gloria Steinem to better understand the intersection between the history of women’s sports and the history of women’s liberation.
  • Center a lesson around the photograph of Billie Jean, Bella Abzug, and Betty Friedan participating in the torch relay at the National Women’s Conference. Read the life story for each woman and conduct a close study of the image. What might each woman have been thinking about entering the conference? How do they represent different aspects of the movement? What other perspectives would students want to include in this limited study?
  • Pair Billie Jean’s life story with that of Patsy Mink, who helped usher Title IX through Congress in partnership with fellow members of Congress Birch Bayh and Edith Green. Consider how the work of these two women overlapped and changed the nature of women’s and girls’ sports.
  • Compare the life stories of Billie Jean and Gertrude Ederle, two outstanding athletes that pushed the boundaries of women’s sports. How did each woman change the sporting world and people’s attitudes about women generally?
  • Connect Billie Jean’s life to that of Antonia Pantoja. Both women struggled with coming out and keeping their private lives private in the face of activism and popularity. How do their life stories speak to the challenges LGBTQIA+ women faced in the 20th century?
  • Pair Billie Jean’s life story to the “Lesbians in Revolt” article by The Furies. How do these two resources speak to one another? How do they speak to the different ways lesbians navigated the 1970s and involvement in the women’s liberation movement?
  • Consider how women’s access to athletics and sports have changed through a close study of clothing. Compare the images of Billie Jean King to images of Gertrude Ederle and Progressive Era-recreation outfits.
  • Invite students to learn more about Billie Jean by exploring the resources in the Billie Jean King Collection at the New-York Historical Society, which includes objects and library materials.



Source Notes