‘Peanuts,’ one of the world’s most popular cartoons, pushed for Title IX in the 1970s

Neda Ulaby | June 26, 2022
The Peanuts characters reminded readers of the importance of Title IX at a moment when many schools and athletic programs were resistant to it.
The Peanuts characters reminded readers of the importance of Title IX at a moment when many schools and athletic programs were resistant to it. Peanuts © 1979 Peanuts Worldwide LLC

Title IX was not tremendously popular with everyone when it first passed in 1972. The legislation, which bans sex-based discrimination in schools and sports funded by the federal government, was originally opposed by the NCAA, which lobbied against it. It was ignored or minimized by athletic departments at many state-funded schools and universities. But Title IX found ardent support in the funny pages.

Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, passionately believed in girls’ and women’s sports. Arguably the most popular cartoonist of his day, he used his platform to promote Title IX, with characters such as Lucy, Marcie and Peppermint Patty cheering on the legislation — and top women athletes of the era.

Peppermint Patty was a rare character in popular culture - a sympathetic girl jock.
Peppermint Patty was a rare character in popular culture – a sympathetic girl jock. Peanuts © 1979 Peanuts Worldwide LLC

Schulz started Peanuts in 1950. When he died in 2000, his strip was syndicated in thousands of newspapers and read by more than 300 million people in 25 different languages across the world. His characters adorned everything from clothes to school supplies. And the CBS Peanuts specials, which started in the 1960s, became treasured TV classics.

“I think it was actually Billy Jean’s influence,” said Schulz’s widow, Jean, of her late husband’s advocacy of Title IX. A tennis devotee, Schulz met Billie Jean King in the early 1970s, and the two quickly became fast friends.

“It was a horrible time for me,” King recalled in a talk at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, C.A. in 2012. King said her brand new organization, the Women’s Sports Foundation, was just getting off the ground, and she was not seeing much success. King asked Schulz if he’d serve as a trustee.

“And he said absolutely. He was so excited. Holy Camoly, he’ll do it!” she said.

When this strip was first published, thousands of girls in the U.S. played sports. Now, that number is in the millions, thanks to Title IX.
When this strip was first published, thousands of girls in the U.S. played sports. Now, that number is in the millions, thanks to Title IX. Peanuts © 1979 Peanuts Worldwide LLC

Schulz brought more than backstage clout to Title IX. In 1966, he’d introduced a pioneering character: a confident girl jock with freckles, sandals and swagger. Easily the best athlete of all the kids, Peppermint Patty managed her own baseball team, played hockey and raced motocross. The sporty girls in Peanuts, who ice skated and enjoyed throwing balls, helped normalize something as simple and positive as girls playing sports, said Jean Schulz. Still, she cautioned against giving her late husband too much credit.

“It still took women pushing legislation and complaining and keeping it on the agenda,” she pointed out.

Many of those women loved Peanuts, including Olympic gold medalist Jeanette Bolden, who sprinted to victory in Los Angeles in 1984. She became a leading coach who developed dozens of top-ranked NCAA athletes. Much like Billie Jean King, Bolden said she never identified with Peppermint Patty, even though she was the jock.

In Peanuts, Peppermint Patty's baseball team often crushed Charlie Brown's squad.
In Peanuts, Peppermint Patty’s baseball team often crushed Charlie Brown’s squad. Peanuts © 1979 Peanuts Worldwide LLC

“Lucy was probably the one who stuck out to me more than anything,” Bolden said. “Because she was always on Charlie Brown. Didn’t give out many compliments, you know?”

Female coaches and athletes still have to fight for resources and equity in spite of the accomplishments made possible by Title IX. Peanuts gave us a sweeter glimpse of a world with a level playing field for everyone.

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Transcript :

ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:

We’re marking the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which banned sex-based discrimination in schools and programs funded by the federal government. Some of those programs involved girls’ sports. And sporty girls found support someplace you might not expect – in the funny pages.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “CHARLIE BROWN’S ALL STARS”)

LYNN VANDERLIP: (As Patty) We’re only one run behind with the tying run at third.

SALLY DRYER: (As Lucy van Pelt) But we have two outs.

VANDERLIP: (As Patty) But Charlie Brown is on third, and our best hitter is coming up.

NADWORNY: That’s two girls playing baseball in a “Peanuts” special from 1966. As NPR’s Neda Ulaby reports, “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz was a passionate believer in Title IX.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: If you remember “Peanuts,” you might remember Charlie Brown and a confident girl jock with freckles, sandals and attitude.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “CHARLIE BROWN’S ALL STARS”)

PETER ROBBINS: (As Charlie Brown) Peppermint Patty? Well, what a surprise.

ULABY: Peppermint Patty was easily the best athlete of all the kids and managed her own baseball team.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Peppermint Patty) Hi, Chuck. How’s the old ball team? I thought now would be a good time to solve this year’s baseball problems for you, Chuck. I’m heading across town right now. So you get your team together. Tell them Peppermint Patty is on her way.

ULABY: But it was not just Peppermint Patty. Lots of girls in “Peanuts” were serious about playing ball.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “CHARLIE BROWN’S ALL STARS”)

DRYER: (As Lucy van Pelt) This bat is no good. It’s too light. That ball they’re using is no good either.

ULABY: The sporty girls of “Peanuts” also played hockey and tennis, and they were super competitive.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “CHARLIE BROWN’S ALL STARS”)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) I’m quitting. It’s ridiculous to keep playing on a team that always loses.

ULABY: More than 3 million people read “Peanuts,” which started in 1950 and ended in 2000 – the year creator Charles Schulz passed away. Schulz loved golf and tennis, and he met Billie Jean King at a tennis tournament in the early 1970s when she was trying to promote women’s sports without much success.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILLIE JEAN KING: Nobody wants to see you girls play. Get lost. It was a horrible time for me. It was horrible time for me.

ULABY: That’s King in 2012, speaking at the Charles M. Schulz Museum. King and Schulz immediately became friends, and she asked him if he might join her new organization, the Women’s Sports Foundation, as a trustee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KING: And he said, absolutely. He was, like, so excited. I’m like, holy camoly (ph), he’ll do it.

ULABY: The most popular cartoonist of his day used his syndicated strip, seen in thousands of newspapers, to explicitly support Title IX, with characters cheering on the top female athletes of the era. Billie Jean King remembers the strip from 1973 when her former opponent Bobby Riggs played against another female star and beat her. In the strip, the character Lucy is so angry she cannot even talk.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KING: That Lucy, she was just – (vocalizing). Yeah, that mouth. And he makes that mouth huge.

ULABY: With that huge, outraged mouth, Lucy announces she’s going to write Bobby Riggs a sternly worded letter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KING: Dear Bobby Riggs, you are lucky.

ULABY: “Peanuts” never got pushback for its advocacy, says Charles’ widow, Jean Schulz.

JEAN SCHULZ: Everything he did came out in the strip as being so benign.

ULABY: It was just normalizing something as simple and positive as girls playing sports. But Schulz warns against giving her late husband too much credit.

SCHULZ: It still took women pushing legislation and complaining and keeping it on the agenda.

ULABY: Those women, like Jeanette Bolden, still loved “Peanuts.”

JEANETTE BOLDEN: Of course. Of course. How could you forget the “Peanuts?” Yes.

ULABY: Bolden won an Olympic gold medal sprinting in Los Angeles in 1984 and became a leading coach who developed dozens of top athletes. Like Billie Jean King, Bolden says she never really identified with Peppermint Patty. She loved Lucy.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “A CHARLIE BROWN HOLIDAY DINNER”)

ROBIN KOHN: (As Lucy van Pelt) Come on, Charlie Brown. I’ll hold the ball, and you kick it.

BOLDEN: Lucy was probably the one who stuck out to me more than anything because she was always on Charlie Brown – didn’t give out many compliments.

ULABY: Female coaches and athletes still have to fight for equity in spite of everything accomplished by Title IX. “Peanuts” gave a glimpse of a world with a level playing field for everyone.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF VINCE GUARALDI TRIO’S “LINUS AND LUCY”) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.