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Wilma Rudolph, Althea Gibson, Billie Jean King: these iconic women athletes excelled in professional sports before 1972, when Title IX was passed into law, protecting people from being excluded from federal education programs on the basis of sex. Before Title IX, opportunities for women to play sports at school were limited. Since then, participation in sports has grown exponentially. Today there are several major women’s sports leagues in North America, including the Women’s National Basketball Association, the National Women’s Hockey League, and the National Women’s Soccer League.

Collection Objects

Historic photographs and objects reveal the stories of incredible women athletes in our collections

Rebecca Lobo runs towards the camera, as an opposing player runs behind her. She wears a red and black Team USA jersey.

1996 Olympics “Summer of the Women"

In this black-and-white photograph, Althea Gibson poses on a stool with two tennis rackets. Both the rackets have dark colors printed with "Althea Gibson" in white letters.

Rising above Bias to Become the First African American Grand Slam Champion

white baseball dress

A Real League of Their Own

Fencing mask featuring an American flag across the front.

Ibtihaj Muhammad's Olympic Debut

Dark colored ice skating costume on a mannequin

Kristi Yamaguchi: First Asian American Woman to Win an Olympic Gold Medal

The front of the black-and-white program features a centrally oriented, thatched illustration of Wilma Rudolph.

Wilma Rudolph, Civil Rights Frontrunner

Conversation Kit

Let's Talk! Cindy Whitehead’s Skateboard Conversation Kit
Cindy Whitehead Teaching and Discussion Guide

Grades 6–12. Time: Variable (1–3 class periods). Aligned to CCSS and C3 standards.

In this lesson plan, students will learn how Cindy Whitehead, a skateboarding pioneer, changed the culture of skateboarding and fought for girls to have greater access to all sports. Students will examine the question: Why does gender equality in sports matter?

Smithsonian American Women book cover.

Smithsonian American Women

Remarkable objects and stories of strength, ingenuity, and vision from the National Collection.

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