January 19, 1998
Geneva, NY — Billie Jean King, professional tennis legend and a pioneer and advocate for women’s equity in athletics, will be honored as the 31st recipient of Hobart and William Smith Colleges' Elizabeth Blackwell Award, to be presented on campus on May 15, 1998.
The Blackwell Award, given to women whose lives exemplify outstanding service to humankind, is named for Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in America to receive the Doctor of Medicine degree. Blackwell earned her degree in 1849 from Geneva Medical College, later Hobart College.
Although her collection of victories and titles in professional tennis is virtually without peer, King will be honored chiefly for off-court contributions to women’s athletics and the ambient affect that her stature as an athlete has had on women’s opportunities throughout society.
Once described by Life magazine as one of the “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century,” King transcends tennis. A founding board member of the Women's Sports Foundation, King has been instrumental in creating opportunities for girls and women in all sports. Many of the enhanced opportunities for female athletes that have arisen over the past three decades, such as Title IX requirements, can be traced directly or indirectly to the lead of women's tennis and Billie Jean King. Both King and her sport were the first to gain prominence and respect, spawning a trend that now includes women’s golf, basketball, skiing, and so many other professional and amateur sports.
Not surprisingly, this rise parallels the currents of the contemporary women's movement. In the context of post-1960 social change, King belongs to a short list of women who, by their excellence and determination to use their talents fully, have empowered others to pursue their own goals, both in sports and beyond.
King is currently director and official spokesperson of WORLD TEAMTENNIS, America's only professional co-educational team sport, encouraging both individual strengths and team efforts for women and men. This is a concept shared by the Colleges’ model of coordinate education for the genders.
Not to be forgotten, King did, as well, distinguish herself as a player, ranking number one in the world five times between 1966 and 1972. She earned 20 Wimbledon titles, holds 13 U.S. Open titles, and was the first woman athlete in any sport to earn more than $100,000 in a single season of competition. King's fame mushroomed in 1973 when she competed against Bobbie Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes match, which drew the largest live tennis audience to date; more than 30,000 people watched her defeat Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. In 1967, King was selected as “Outstanding Female Athlete of the World,” in 1972 she was named Sports Illustrated's “Sportsperson of the Year” (the first woman to be so honored), and she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987.
Other awards reflect the breadth of her impact. In 1990 she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. She received the March of Dimes Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994. For her contributions as president of Tennis-America, King was awarded the National Service Bowl.
Family Circle magazine’s “Player Who Makes a Difference” Award, given to King in 1992, recognized a player “who makes exceptional contributions of time and energy to worthy causes . . . (and who has) dedicated her life to helping make the world a better and kinder place.” Similarly, in September 1994, when King was named one of Sports Illustrated's Top 40 Athletes, the citation read, “Tennis is Billie Jean's passion, but activism is her true game. . . . She isn't happy unless she is championing a cause, whether it's professionalism on the court or feminism in the world at large.”
King joins a distinguished list of Blackwell Award recipients, including Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller, former Congresswomen Barbara Jordan and Margaret Chase Smith, choreographer Agnes George de Mille, and author and anthropologist Margaret Mead.
Details of the award presentation will be announced as they become available.
Hobart College for men and William Smith College for women are two private, coordinate institutions of higher learning in the liberal arts located along the shore of Seneca Lake in Geneva, N.Y. Hobart College for men was founded in 1822 and currently enrolls 867 students. William Smith College for women was founded in 1908 and currently enrolls 921 women. The two colleges share faculty and facilities and provide coeducational classes. Each colleges, however, awards it own degrees, has its own dean and admissions office, and maintains separate student governments and athletics programs. The Colleges confer the Blackwell Award whenever a candidate of sufficient stature and appropriate qualifications is identified. The first award was given in 1958, the most recent in 1995.
Contact: Kathy Sholly