The Forgotten Teenage Trailblazer of Women’s Tennis

Before Ira Glasser, who would later become the director of the American Civil Liberties Union, filed the official complaint, he spent six months unsuccessfully petitioning the Board of Education to shift its policy. In practice sessions, Ms. Graber had beat two boys who made the team. But the hearing — one of the era’s first on the rights of women — made the difference. In February 1971, the board voted to allow girls to compete with boys in non-contact sports. Ms. Graber joined the team, where, by her own admission, she was not the best player but could still claim many wins.

Phyllis Graber eventually became Phyllis Graber Jensen and lives with her husband in Maine, where she works as the director of photography and video for the communications office at Bates College. In the moment, she did not realize what she helped propel, she told me recently. At the hearing Ms. Holmes Norton said that she was disappointed that other girls were not waging similar campaigns. But soon around the country, other girls did challenge these norms until the passage of Title IX in 1972 opened up a new world of opportunities for girls’ sports.

At Cornell, where Ms. Graber played on the women’s tennis team, she met another woman who had also secured a position on a boys’ team. Between 1970 and 1972, the number of high school girls participating in team sports increased from 300,000 to 800,000.

“I had a gradual awakening based on what I encountered in school, in Ms. magazine, in what was happening in the world around me,” Ms. Graber Jensen told me. “If I had been born 10 years earlier, I would have faced a much grimmer experience. I think my parents were exceptional in how they encouraged me. I think back on my father. He was raised in a traditional home. He bounded ahead of those ideas on his own.”

I encountered the Phyllis Graber story by chance through a passing reference in a new book, “Radical Play,’’ by the historian Rob Goldberg, which looks at the way that the social disruptions of the 1960s and ’70s were reflected in the manufacture of children’s toys. The book traces a direct line from the Graber case to the emergence of an androgynously named teenage doll, Dusty, introduced as an anti-Barbie by the Kenner toy company in 1974. In an earlier effort to capitalize on the women’s movement, the company tried and failed, Mr. Goldberg recounted, to market a single-mom doll packaged with a baby.

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