This week marks 40 years since the formation of the WTA, when nine women, led by Billie Jean King, in September 1970 signed $1 contracts and founded the Virginia Slims Circuit, later to become the WTA. The women’s players decided to do something against gender inequality in tennis and prize money offered to female players by the USTA (then called USLTA) and other tournament organizing bodies.
At the time, the new organization of women’s tennis players was labeled as a bunch of “crazies”, they were suspended by the USTA and there was even a rival circuit against them.
You have to remember in 71, a lot of people weren’t real happy with us when we started. A lot of players were afraid to join us. And we had two tours, two circuits, because the USTA started one against us which was very difficult at the time. I wanted everyone to be together. That was the whole intention when we started. We lost $3000 the first year. I guess that’s where my prize money went. So I made zero or minus money that year. But we were very excited and very scared and we weren’t sure what was going to happen to us. But it was the first tournament of the Virginia Slims series in 71. – Billie Jean King
However, the women were willing to risk their careers for the cause of bringing professional tennis closer to people and fighting for the rights of women. It was even more important than winning Grand Slams for them at the time.
The media was being tough, they labeled us as “crazy” because we were women. I used to say “if I were Jimmy Connors doing this you’d just say he’s just trying to create opportunities as a business guy.” No one ever perceives me as a business person. It’s very interesting. – Billie Jean King
The Virginia Slims Circuit became the WTA in 1973, and its first stop was Stanford where Billie Jean King had a press conference on the topic this year (where the quotes in this article are from). The WTA now has over 2,200 players representing 96 nations competing for over $86 million in prize money at 53 tournaments and four Grand Slams in 33 countries.