Lili De Alvarez 1926
Spanish tennis player Lili de Alvarez after she had beaten Molla Mallory in the lawn tennis ladies singles championships at Beckenham, England, on June 12, 1926. Alvarez made headlines in 1931 for wearing what TIME described that year as "a split skirt which resembled a pair of abbreviated pajamas" (in other words, shorts) at Wimbledon.G. Adams—Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Lili De Alvarez 1926
Conchita Cintron the Matadora 1941
Toni Stone 1950
Babe Didrikson Zaharias 1951
Patty Berg 1951
Althea Gibson, 1956
Nancy Greene 1968
Kathy Switzer roughed up by Jock Semple during Boston Mararthon, April 19, 1967.
Barbara Jo Rubin 1969
Billie Jean King 1973
Chris Evert 1974
Mary Decker 1978
Ann Myers 1979
Marianne Martin 1984
Libby Riddles 1985
Michelle Akers 1991
Manon Rheaume 1992
Jackie Joyner-Kersee 1992
Spanish tennis player Lili de Alvarez after she had beaten Molla Mallory in the lawn tennis ladies singles championships
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G. Adams—Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
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See 18 Athletes Who Changed the Game for Women

Jun 23, 2015

When Title IX was enacted on June 23, 1972, the federal law changed athletic life for American women, as TIME explained in a 1978 cover story about women and sports:

Only a tiny minority of girls appear to want to play contact sports against boys. But there is no doubt that the girls want and indeed are insisting upon a fair chance to develop their athletic abilities. Their cause is being substantially helped, albeit unevenly so far, by a section of the Education Amendments Act passed by Congress in 1972: the passage known as Title IX. In essence, Title IX forbids sex discrimination in any educational institution receiving federal funds. The prohibition applies on the athletic fields as well as in classrooms.

Of course, there were plenty of great female athletes before Title IX—and its passage didn't mean that women stopped breaking new ground. Those who wanted to play found a way, despite limited options and sometimes-violent opposition. Here are just a few of those pioneering women.

Read the full 1978 story here, in the TIME Vault: Comes the Revolution

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