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Guide to The Billie Jean King Collection
1901-2019 (bulk, 1940-2019)
 MS 3147

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Margaret Dalton

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on May 07, 2021
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical / Historical

Billie Jean King is a tennis legend and champion for equality. Widely known for her victory over Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match, King made advances for women's rights to equitable pay and recognition through her participation as one of the Original 9, playing on the Virginia Slims Tour, as founder of the Women's Tennis Association, as founder of the Women's Sports Foundation, and as co-founder of World TeamTennis, a mixed-gender league. BJK also founded Billie Jean King Enterprises and Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative to address equality and inclusion issues in the workplace. King, a lesbian, has also advocated for LGBTQ rights and served on the Board of Directors of the Elton John AIDS Foundation as a founding board member and Honorary Lifetime President.

In 2009, King was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, becoming the first female athlete to be honored with the nation's highest civilian honor. President Barack Obama honored King, saying "...we honor what she calls all of the off the court stuff. What she did to broaden the reach of the game, to change how women athletes and women everywhere view themselves and to give everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, including my two daughters, a chance to compete both on the court and in life."

Billie Jean Moffitt was born November 22, 1943, in Long Beach, California to Mildred Rose "Betty" Jerman Moffitt and Willis "Bill" Jefferson Moffitt. BJK began playing tennis in her youth with free tennis instruction on public courts and began playing in sectional and national USLTA tournaments. From 1961-1964 BJK attended California State University, Los Angeles while competing in tennis tournaments, including Wightman Cup and Fed Cup, the annual international team competition and world cup of women's professional tennis. In the fall of 1964 BJK traveled to Australia to perfect her game working with the Australian players. In 1968 she became a contract pro.

In 1965 Billie Jean Moffitt married Cal State classmate Larry King. Throughout their marriage, BJK and Larry King collaborated on the promotion of tennis through the ownership of tournaments on the Virginia Slims pro circuit and the leadership of World TeamTennis. In 1974 BJK and Larry King co-founded and published womenSports magazine. BJK and Larry King divorced in 1987. BJK and life partner Ilana Kloss, a former World No.1 doubles player and former CEO of World TeamTennis, have been together since 1979. BJK and Kloss joined the ownership group of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2018, the Los Angeles Sparks in 2019, and Angel City FC in 2020.

BJK holds 39 Grand Slam titles: 12 singles titles, 16 women's doubles titles, and 11 mixed doubles titles. In 1961, Billie Jean Moffitt and Karen Hantze Susman became the youngest team to win the Ladies Doubles Championships at Wimbledon. In 1966, BJK won her first major singles championship at Wimbledon and was ranked as the number one player in the world in women's tennis. She held the world number 1 ranking from 1966-1968, 1971-1972, and in 1974. Between 1961 and 1979, BJK won 20 Wimbledon titles, 13 United States titles (four singles), four French titles (one singles), and two Australian titles (one singles). In 1972, she won the U.S. Open, French Open, and Wimbledon, earning three Grand Slam titles in one year. BJK's overall Open Era titles is 168 with an overall record of Singles, Doubles, and Mixed of 782-192.

Throughout the 1970s, BJK campaigned for equal prize money to bridge the pay gap between men and women in professional tennis. In September 1970, defying the United States Lawn Tennis Association and in response to its lack of action regarding the pay disparity, BJK and eight other players accepted a $1 contract from tennis promoter Gladys Heldman in Houston as part of the "Original 9." Their vision had three goals: 1. To make sure any girl in the world if she was good enough would have a place to compete; 2. That girl and women athletes would be appreciated for their accomplishments, not just their looks; and 3. That women would be able to make a living. Their courage led to the formation of the Virginia Slims Tour. A culmination of BJK's efforts were realized in 1973 when the US Open became the first Grand Slam to offer equal prize money. The Australian Open joined in 2001, and it wouldn't be until 2007 that Wimbledon and The French Open had equal pay.

In 1973, BJK founded the Women's Tennis Association and became its first president. On September 20, 1973, BJK faced and defeated Bobby Riggs in the famed "Battle of the Sexes" match at the Houston Astrodome in front of 30,472 fans and an estimated worldwide television audience of nearly 90 million people.

In 1974, BJK founded the Women's Sports Foundation, dedicated to protecting the sports provisions of Title IX, and approached Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, to join the Board of Trustees, and he became an advocate for women's sports. The WSF continues to build a future where every girl and woman has the opportunity to participate in sport and realize her power, potential, and leadership skills. King co-founded World TeamTennis and became the commissioner of WTT in 1981, making her the first woman commissioner in pro sports. In addition to the professional league, a recreational league was played throughout the country. In 2017, after forty-two years, BJK sold her majority ownership of WTT. Along with her partner Ilana Kloss, and their friend Elton John, BJK established World TeamTennis Smash Hits in 1992 as an annual all-star charity tennis match for the Elton John AIDS Foundation. BJK captained the U.S. Olympic women's tennis teams in 1996 and 2000.

Amongst many career distinctions and awards, on August 28, 2006, BJK was honored with the renaming of the National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open as the "USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center" for her contributions to tennis, sports, and society both on and off the court. In 1990 BJK was named one of "100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century" by LIFE Magazine. In 2020 Federation Cup was renamed the Billie Jean King Cup in her honor. BJK was captain of nine Fed Cup teams for the United States. BJK was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame as a player in 1987 and again, in 2021, as a part of the Original 9.