Donate Now!

The “Original 9”

In the 1970 Italian Open, WSF Founder Billie Jean King was the women’s singles champion; she received $600 in prize money. That may be considered a generous amount in 1970, but the men’s singles champion Ilie Nastase received $3,500–almost six times the amount of prize money King earned. Fair? We think not.
Before the days of Title IX, professional athletic opportunities for girls and women were limited. When an opportunity did exist, women often faced inequities.
In 1970, an outspoken and courageous group of daring young women–Billie Jean King, Rosemary Casals, Judy Tegart Dalton, Nancy Richey, Peaches Bartkowicz, Kristy Pigeon, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Julie Heldman, and Kerry Melville Reid–put their careers at risk in order to put an end to this injustice. This group became known as the “Original 9.”
They went against the United States Tennis Association (then the United States Law Tennis Association) and formed their own tour of eight professional tournaments, sponsored by Virginia Slims, the tobacco company. They received threats from USLTA officials that they would be banned from Grand Slam events, but their current situation was no better. Men ran tournaments and men received the majority of the prize money.
Each woman who was part of the “Original 9” signed a one dollar contract with Gladys Heldman, publisher of World Tennis Magazine. Those one dollar bills turned into millions. By 1971, about forty players had registered for the Virginia Slims Circuit and the prize money totaled to $309,100. It spread to nineteen different cities, and it became a crucial milestone in women’s tennis history.
The “Original 9” paved the way for the establishment of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tour that was formed in 1973. During the same year the WTA tour was formed, the U.S. Open offered equal prize money to both men and women for the first time. Today, the WTA showcases more than 2,500 players representing ninety-two countries, and the prize money totals to $96 million.
King and the others helped professional women’s tennis become what it is today–a rewarding, profitable career. But the rewards are not just monetary. In the words of WTA CEO Stacey Allaster, the “Original 9” did not just give “little girls the dreams they could play professional tennis, you gave little girls the dreams that they could be CEOs of companies.”