September History Hits: Battle of the Sexes

On September 20, 1973, tennis star Billie Jean King faced down retired tennis player Bobby Riggs in a high-profile match that would come to be known as the Battle of the Sexes. The match was and is the most watched tennis match in history, viewed by over 90 million people worldwide. The match is considered a major event in the feminist movement of the 70s, encouraging women to participate in sports, advocate for equal pay in the workplace, and never underestimate themselves.

In 1973, women were just barely starting to be included in major sporting events. 1972 was the first year women were allowed to run in the Boston Marathon. Title IX was passed the same year, which required schools to provide funding for female sports. During these years, women’s tennis was becoming a more popular sport, and female tennis players were participating in their own tournaments. Many male tennis players were unsettled by this but perhaps none so vocally as Bobby Riggs. By 1973, Bobby Riggs was retired, but he looked for a moment of fame by challenging the top female players of the time to matches. He wanted to prove that even a mediocre, retired tennis player could beat the best female players.

Billie Jean King, now considered a feminist icon, understood the impact that such a match would have on women’s sports and the feminist movement. She agreed to face Riggs at the Houston Astrodome with a prize of $100,000 up for grabs. The 30,000 people in attendance watched as Riggs took the court wearing a jacket that read in bright red letters, “Sugar Daddy.” King was carried onto the field atop a litter resting on the shoulders of four men. King beat Riggs in three straight sets. When the match ended, Riggs approached King and said, “I underestimated you.”

Following her landmark victory, King never stopped campaigning for equality. She demanded equal amounts of prize money in men and women’s tournaments. She founded the Women’s Sports Foundation that provided women and girls with greater access to sports teams and defended Title IX in lawsuits. She founded the Billie Jean King Initiative, a non-profit that “address[es] the critical issues required to achieve diverse, inclusive leadership in the workforce.” She has also been a relentless advocate for LGBTQ rights. It turns out Riggs did severely underestimate Billie Jean King. In the Battle of the Sexes match and in the rest of her life, King showed the impact that one person can make in the fight for equality.

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Read more about Billie Jean King’s exceptional career and life in her autobiography:

September History Hits: Famous September Birthdays

According to the U.S. Social Security Administrations, of the 10 most popular birthdays among Americans, 9 of them are in the month of September. If you have a September birthday, you are in good company. This month has seen the births of hosts of famous figures throughout history, including politicians, artists, and innovators.

Here are a few influential people born in the month of September:

Marquis de Lafayette was born September 6, 1757 to a noble family in France. At the young age of 19, Lafayette traveled to America to fight with the colonists in the American Revolution. He was a close friend of George Washington and convinced the French to send aid to the colonists, leading to the defeat of the British army. He was also an influential figure in the French Revolution and composed the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,” the credo adopted by the revolutionary National Assembly.

Jane Addams was born September 6, 1860. The second woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, Addams is seen as a pioneer in the field of social work. She opened Hull House in Chicago which was part childcare center, part night school, public kitchen, gymnasium, and library. She worked with boards and charities in the Chicago area to educate people about childbirth and proper hygiene and sanitation.

Agatha Christie, born September 15, 1890, is considered the best-selling novelist of all time. Christie wrote 74 novels, most of them detective novels. Some of her most notable were The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and Murder on the Orient Express, each featuring her iconic main character, Hercule Poirot. Her personal life was almost as mysterious as her books—Agatha Christie famously disappeared for 10 days in 1926, though nobody knows exactly where she went or why. Christie’s novels and characters have been adapted in television, movies, books, and plays. Known as the “Queen of Crime,” she helped to pioneer the detective trope that is so popular today.

Jim Henson was born on September 24, 1936. Henson became interested in puppetry while in college. He and his wife, Jane, created a show called Sam and Friends that appeared on a local television channel. It was as part of this show that Henson first created the iconic character Kermit the Frog. His characters became more and more popular, appearing on commercials and other nationally famous television shows. In 1969, Henson signed with Children’s Television Workshop, and they created the still-running children’s television show, Sesame Street.  Here, Henson created characters recognized throughout the world, like Big Bird, Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Oscar the Grouch. In the 1970s, Henson created The Muppet Show. Kermit, Miss. Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and Gonzo won Henson worldwide renown and several major entertainment awards.

These are just a few of the many notable people born in the month of September who have left great legacies across the world. What other famous figures born in September can you think of?

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On This Day: Votes for Women

On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The 19th Amendment guaranteed the right to vote to women. Though it would take decades longer for states to rid themselves of local laws precluding women from voting and for women of color to be enfranchised as part of this amendment, its passage changed American politics forever.  

The quest for the vote for women started in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention, organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. At this meeting, often referred to as the birthplace of American feminism, Stanton presented a Declaration of Sentiments that declared “all men and women are created equal,” and demanded the vote for women as proof of that statement. From this convention, suffrage groups were created. Some believed that pursuing suffrage state by state would be the best strategy, while others thought national suffrage would serve women best.  

By 1918, 70 years after the Seneca Falls Convention, 15 states had individually granted women the right to vote. In Montana, the first female member of Congress was elected, Jeanette Rankin. She stood before the House of Representatives in the midst of a World War and said, “How shall we explain to them the meaning of democracy if the same Congress that voted for war to make the world safe for democracy refuses to give this small measure of democracy to the women of our country?” The bill passed in the House and failed in the Senate. The amendment came up again and, in the summer of 1919, the House and Senate passed it.  

Once the amendment had been passed through Congress, it was up to a majority of states to ratify it. This process took over one year as state congresses met and voted on the subject. On August 18, 1920, the Tennessee House of Representatives met for a vote to ratify the amendment. Harry Burn cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the amendment with a letter from his mother in his pocket that read: “Hurray and vote for suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt . . .  Don’t forget to be a good boy.”

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Tereshkova and Ride: Pioneers in Space

On June 16, 1963 and June 18, 1983 respectively, Valentina Tereshkova and Sally Ride became the first woman and first American woman to enter space. Taking the leap into the cosmos 20 years apart, these two women left a profound impact on the history of space exploration.

Valentina Tereshkova hailed from a humble background and worked in a textile factory and was an amateur parachutist before her historic mission. Selected from a pool of hundreds of applicants, Tereshkova was chosen for her space mission for her physical fitness, technical aptitude, and unwavering determination. During her three-day Vostok 6 mission, Tereshkova orbited the Earth 48 times. Her journey shattered the notion that space travel was a male domain. She paved the way for future generations of female astronauts and inspired women to pursue careers in science and space exploration.

Two decades later, Sally Ride embarked on her own journey to the stars. Ride possessed an exceptional intellect and a passion for science. In 1978, she was among the first six women selected to join NASA’s astronaut corps. On June 18, 1983, aboard the Challenger space shuttle, Sally Ride became the first American woman to venture into space. Over the course of her missions, Ride spent 343 hours in space, contributed to vital scientific research, and demonstrated the capabilities of women in the demanding environment of space.

Both Valentina Tereshkova and Sally Ride dedicated their lives to advancing science and education and promoting gender equality. Tereshkova became a prominent figure in Soviet politics who championed women’s rights, supporting initiatives for gender equality in the workforce and advocating for increased opportunities for women in science and technology. After leaving NASA, Ride became a professor of physics and founded the organization Sally Ride Science, which aimed to inspire young girls and other underrepresented communities to pursue careers in STEM.

As Gloria Steinem said, these women allowed “millions of little girls [to] sit by their television sets and see they can be astronauts, heroes, explorers, and scientists.”

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June History Hits: The Price of Suffrage

In June 1873, Susan B. Anthony, a prominent suffragette and women’s right advocate, was charged by a federal court for voting in the 1872 presidential election. Her act of defiance against the prevailing norms not only challenged the patriarchy but also highlighted it.

Four years earlier, in 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified which read: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States” (1). One year later, the United States Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment which simply stated that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (2). At the occasion of the presidential election of 1872 between Ulysses S. Grant and Horace Greeley, Susan B. Anthony decided to test her status as a citizen and the rights afforded to her by these two amendments. She walked into a polling location in Rochester, New York, along with 50 other women and cast her ballot.  

Anthony’s actions did not go unnoticed or unopposed. Just two weeks later, she was arrested and charged with knowingly, wrongfully, and unlawfully voting. The ensuing trial, United States v. Susan B. Anthony, captivated the nation’s attention. During the trial, Anthony passionately defended her right to vote and argued that the Fifteenth Amendment provided women with the same rights as men. The New York Times article written about the trial spoke of her lawyer’s defense, quoting, “The crime therefore consisted not in the act done, but in the fact that the person doing it was a woman and not a man . . . women have the same interest in the maintenance of good government as men” (3). Despite her eloquent defense, the judge instructed the jury to find her guilty. Anthony’s subsequent refusal to pay the $100 fine further propelled her cause, allowing her to bring the issue of women’s suffrage to the forefront of public discourse.

While it took several more decades for women to secure the right to vote, Anthony’s brave act galvanized a generation of suffragettes who would continue her work. In 1920, nearly a half century after her trial, the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, guaranteeing women’s right to vote across the U.S.


On This Day: Shaping Literary and Feminist History

On May 22, 1810, Margaret Fuller was born in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts. She emerged as a groundbreaking journalist during a time when women’s voices were marginalized and opportunities limited. She dedicated herself to promoting social justice, profound literary achievements, and pioneering the feminist movement.

Margaret Fuller was raised in a family that valued education. From a young age, Fuller exhibited an insatiable curiosity and passion for learning. Her literary journey began when she started working as a contributor to The Dial, a transcendentalist journal, at the behest of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1). Her contributions showcased her formidable intellect and critical thinking skills, covering a wide range of subjects, including literature, philosophy, and social issues.

It was Fuller’s groundbreaking book, Women in the Nineteenth Century, published in 1845, that propelled her to the forefront of the feminist movement. The book explored the theme of gender equality, challenging societal norms and advocating for women’s intellectual and social freedom. Women in the Nineteenth Century was referenced as inspiration for both Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (2).   

As a journalist, Fuller exhibited exceptional talent, and her work often pushed the boundaries of conventional reporting. She became the first female book reviewer for the New York Tribune and later served as its first female foreign correspondent, reporting from Europe. Fuller’s most notable journalistic work was Summer on the Lakes, a collection of essays based on her journey through the Great Lakes region in 1843. The book not only chronicled her experiences but also provided keen insights into the culture, landscape, and social issues of the region.

Margaret Fuller’s legacy continues to inspire generations of journalists, feminists, and writers. Her life and career exemplify the power of perseverance, intellectual acumen, and unwavering dedication to social progress.


On This Day: A Literary Trailblazer

On May 19, 1930, Lorraine Hansberry was born in Chicago, Illinois. Her parents, Carl and Nannie Hansberry, were prominent civil rights activists. The family’s experiences with these issues would later shape Lorraine’s artistic sensibilities and become central themes in her work.

Hansberry made history when her play, “A Raisin in the Sun,” debuted on Broadway in 1959. At just 29 years old, she became the first African American woman to have a play produced on Broadway. The play explores the aspirations and struggles of a black working-class family living in Chicago’s South Side. Its themes resonated with audiences of all backgrounds, making it an instant success and earning Hansberry critical acclaim.

“A Raisin in the Sun” marked a turning point in American theater, challenging the racial stereotypes and narratives prevalent at the time. It defied the notion that black stories were unmarketable or unworthy of attention. Her play not only paved the way for other African American playwrights but also provided a platform for marginalized voices to be heard.

Hansberry’s life was cut tragically short by pancreatic cancer at the age of 34, but her impact on American literature and the civil rights movement cannot be overstated. Her work continues to be celebrated and studies in schools and theaters worldwide. Her powerful storytelling and unflinching examination of societal issues have inspired subsequent generations of playwrights, artists, and activists to use their art as a tool for social change.

Learn more about Lorraine Hansberry here:

On This Day: The Lady with the Lamp

Florence Nightingale, born May 12, 1820, is remembered for her groundbreaking work as a nurse during the Crimean War and her tireless efforts to reform healthcare in Victorian England. Her legacy has had a lasting impact on nursing and public health around the world.

In 1854, Britain and France went to war with Russia over the Ottoman Empire. The British army sent a group of nurses to the front lines to care for wounded soldiers, and Florence Nightingale was among them. When she arrived in Turkey, she was shocked by the conditions in the hospital. It was overcrowded and unsanitary, and there was a lack of basic medical supplies. Nightingale immediately set to work organizing the hospital and introducing basic sanitation measures, such as washing and disinfecting equipment. She also insisted on better clothing and food for the patients.

Nightingale was known for her tireless work ethic and her ability to inspire her fellow nurses. She often worked long hours, walking around the hospital at night with a lamp, comforting patients and checking on their condition. This led to her being called “the lady with the lamp.”

After the war, Nightingale returned to England a hero. Her work had saved countless lives, and she had become a symbol of hope and compassion. She received numerous honors, including the Royal Red Cross, however, she was not content to stop there. She witnessed the suffering and disease plaguing Victorian England and determined to do something about it, becoming an advocate for public health and healthcare reform.

Nightingale pushed for improvements in sanitation and housing, frequently speaking at conferences and meetings on the topic. Greatly interested in statistical modeling, she championed the use of such to illustrate the efficacity of her methods. She also established the Nightingale Training School for Nurses at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London. This was the first professional nursing school, and it set the standard for nursing education.

Nightingale’s work revolutionized the field of nursing and set the stage for modern public health. At the time of her death, the New York Times wrote that “not even the death of a royal personage could have called forth more universal expressions of regret and tributes of love and affection than appear in the English papers” (2).

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Happy Birthday to America’s First Female Lawyer

May 23rd marks the birth of the woman who was to become the first female lawyer in the US, Belle Aurelia “Arabella” Babb Mansfield.  Born in 1846 in the Benton Township of Des Moines County in Iowa, Arabella was influenced by her parents who valued education and her older brother, Washington Babb, who was also a lawyer.

Arabella Mansfield
Arabella Mansfield, Source: Wikimedia Commons

The interesting part of her story is that she never actually went to law school. After graduating valedictorian of her class at Iowa Wesleyan College, she taught school for a year and married her college sweetheart, John Mansfield.  She then went on to “read the law” in her older brother’s law practice where she worked as an apprentice.

She took the bar exam and passed on June 15,1869 despite the fact that women were legally prohibited. In Iowa, at the time only “white, male citizens” were eligible for admittance to the bar. 

Mansfield argued that women should be allowed to practice law to the Iowa Bar Association and was admitted.  Apparently, she impressed the committee as they wrote:

Your committee takes unusual pleasure in recommending the admission of Mrs. Mansfield, not only because she is the first lady who has applied for this authority in the state, but because in her examination she has given the very best rebuke possible to the imputation that ladies cannot qualify for the practice of law.

Iowa Bar Association

Although admitted to the bar, Mansfield earned a living teaching first at Iowa Wesleyan College and later at DePauw University where she served as the Dean of the school of Art and then later as the Dean of the school of Music.

She was also, notably, active in the suffragette movement and knew famous activist, Susan B. Anthony as they worked to pass the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote.

To learn more about Arabella Mansfied, visit these sources:

January 1925: Nellie Tayloe Ross Becomes the First Female Governor in the US

Nellie Tayloe Ross, much like Miriam “Ma” Ferguson in Texas, found entry into the then male-dominated world of politics through her husband.  In Nellie’s case, her husband, William B. Ross, the sitting governor of Wyoming had recently died of appendicitis.  For Ma Ferguson, her husband had been removed from office through impeachment.

Nellie was asked by the Democratic party in Wyoming to run shortly after her husband’s passing and accepted, according to relatives, in part because she needed the job.  She was easily elected even though Wyoming at the time was a predominantly Republican state and she was subsequently inaugurated on January 5, 1925, just days before Ma Ferguson was sworn in.

Within her first few days of leadership, she shocked the New York Times when on January 16, 1925, she wore her hat and gloves while addressing the Wyoming legislature and “defied precedent.”

Her time as governor was short-lived.  She finished her husband’s term, and did her best to further the populist agenda he had introduced, which included, according to the  Wyoming State Historical Society, issues like spending cuts, state loans for farmers and ranchers, prohibition, school budgets, stronger bank regulation, funding for universities, safety for coal miners and for women in industrial jobs among several other pursuits. Nellie lost re-election in 1926, but that was not the end of her political career.  

A campaign card, from Gov. Ross’s 1926 re-election campaign. American Heritage Center.

In 1928-29, she moved to Washington to work full time as a Director at the Democratic National Committee, and helped to drive women to vote for presidential candidate, Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1933, Roosevelt appointed Nellie to a position as the Director of the Bureau of the Mint, which is a government agency responsible for printing and distributing currency.  She served in this role for the next 20 years having been appointed to three, five-year terms by Roosevelt and one, five-year term by his successor, Harry Truman.  She retired in 1953 and spoke and wrote widely until her death at 101 years old!

Some critics felt like Nellie did not do enough to help other women get ahead in politics, but whether she was as woke as she could have been, Nellie still seized opportunity when it fell in her lap and helped to break a key glass ceiling in the United States.

Want to know more about Nellie?  Here are some sites to visit: