Peppermint Patty is not just a quirky kid with, as she herself puts it, ‘hair full of split ends’, she’s an icon, and rightly so. In this Peanuts Profile, we take a look at the art of Patricia Reichardt, or as she’s better known, Peppermint Patty.
Here’s Peppermint Patty, coming in hot from the very beginning, showing she is casual, comfortable with herself, and a great but competitive athlete:
Let’s start by getting one thing clear. Though at the very least, we know that Peppermint Patty is gender queer, Charles Schulz himself said that Peppermint Patty and Marcie were not lesbians. That doesn’t mean they can’t be wonderful, inspiring icons for feminism and queer pride. After all, at her debut on August 22nd, 1966, tomboys and girls who were wearing more butch (read comfortable) clothing, were often mocked and ridiculed, or even arrested for wearing predominately men’s attire. It was only the 1969 Stonewall Riots of June 28th through July 3rd that helped end that kind of discrimination. Though we are all used to it now, a comic strip character that spoke her mind, wore what she wanted, could best both boys and girls at every sport she played, and had a clear feminist agenda, was groundbreaking at the time.
Arguably the most well-developed character outside of Charlie Brown and Snoopy, it was through Peppermint Patty that Schulz took a committed stance on gender equality for women in sports and elsewhere.
Peppermint Patty, or Patricia Reichardt, is a Peanuts anomaly. She is being raised by a single father, is the only character in Peanuts to wear sandals, which she is passionately committed to because her dad gave them to her, and she can beat everyone, boy or girl, in every sport she plays. Initially, freckle-faced Patty was inspired by Charles Schulz’s cousin Patricia Swanson. Her last name was taken from his secretary Sue Reichardt.
In the cartoons, she was voiced by both young male and female actors. For Peppermint Patty’s appearances in animation, Vince Guaraldi created a theme specifically for her. Peanuts Producer Lee Mendelson, who wrote the lyrics to Christmastime is Here, was particularly fond of her theme.
Schulz often mentioned his friendship with Billie Jean King, which began in the early 1970s. King was a strong proponent of equality for women in sports, and was instrumental in getting Title IX passed, which prohibits sex discrimination in all federally funded school programs, including sports. It had a huge impact. Since Title IX passed, female participation at the high school level has grown by 1057 percent, and by 617 percent in college. As Schulz had always believed women could do and should be allowed to do anything men could do, he got behind Title IX and equality for women in sports, in his strip and, by extension, in animation, chiefly through Peppermint Patty.
In 1974, King started the Women’s Sports Foundation. Within a few years, Schulz became a member of the board of trustees. In terms of their friendship, King said she always knew when ‘Sparky’ wanted to talk to her, because he’d put her name in the strip. He was fearless enough to have played doubles with King at the Snoopy Cup tennis tournament in 1984. Though Schulz already felt strongly about equality for women, his longterm friendship with King inspired him to mirror his beliefs in Peanuts. With over 300,000,000 readers at the height of its popularity, the Peanuts comic strip was a powerful tool he could wield to help normalize female athletes.
Here is a series of strips from October, 1979, which was, in part in reaction to the continued backlash against Title IX, and to help push the public towards acceptance of gender equality in sports. Peppermint Patty goes full advocate, sometimes even using actual statistics, and it’s a glorious thing:
Also unique to Peppermint Patty in pop culture and certainly in comic strips is the fact that she has a loving single father (we are never told her mother is dead, but its inferred), who celebrates her for exactly who she is. It’s the reason she is so hell-bent on wearing her sandals every day. She asked him for them and he got them for her, calling her a ‘rare jewel’. Though Patty has a few issues around how she looks, she knows she is lovable because of her dad. Schultz’s wife Jean also said Patty sleeps in class because she stays up late waiting for her dad to come home from work. Awwwww.
Although, as mentioned in his Peanuts Profile, Franklin was a character that Schulz wasn’t entirely comfortable representing because he himself was not Black. He had a daughter who loved sports, however, and spent a lot of time with Bille Jean King, and both were inspirational in bringing Peppermint Patty authentically to life. She is a character that has always been and continues to be a symbol of independence, equality, and self expression. If she can wear her beloved Berks every day, we can let our own freak flags fly, whatever they may be.