As the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships begin this week, I decided to look at the lives and sporting careers of some of England and Ireland's pioneering female Tennis players from the Victorian era.
Here are some of their amazing stories - just remember that these women all played Tennis wearing boned corsets, bustles and long dresses!
|Maude and her sister Lilian Watson|
Maud Edith Eleanor Watson MBE (9 October 1864 – 5 June 1946)
Maud Watson was an English tennis player and the first woman to be crowned as a female Wimbledon champion.
Born in Harrow, London, she was the daughter of a local vicar Henry William and Emily Frances Watson. At the age of sixteen Watson played her first match at the Edgbaston Cricket and Lawn Tennis Club. It was a successful debut, winning the singles competition by defeating her sister Lillian in the final and winning the doubles competition with her.
In 1884 Maud participated in the Irish Ladies' Championship and defeated the reigning Irish champion May Langrishe 6–3, 6–2, 6–2. She was also victorious in the mixed doubles tournament winning the title with multiple Wimbledon champion William Renshaw. Undefeated in tournament play, in 1884 the nineteen-year-old Watson won the first ever Ladies' Singles title at Wimbledon. Playing in white corsets and petticoats, from a field of thirteen competitors she defeated her sister Lilian 6–8, 6–3, 6–3 in the final to claim the title and a silver flower basket valued at 20 Guineas.
1885 was a year of great success for Maud, who remained unbeaten in singles and lost only one set. Maud repeated her success at the 1885 Wimbledon championships. In a field of just 10 entries she easily won the quarter- and semi-finals and in the final defeated Blanche Bingley 6–1, 7–5. She successfully defended her title at the 1885 Irish Championships against Louise Martin. For two sets there was little to choose between them but in the decider Maud outstayed her opponent to win 6–2, 4–6, 6–3. In 1886, the year the Challenge Round was introduced for women, Bingley turned the tables, defeating Watson 6–3, 6–3 in the final to take the title.
In 1887 and 1888 Watson was handicapped by a sprained wrist which worsened with time. Her final competition came at the Edgebaston tournament in June 1889. She entered three events (doubles, mixed doubles and handicap singles) and won them all. While on holiday in Jersey she went swimming off the coast and nearly drowned. She was rescued with difficulty and suffered an illness afterwards which took a number of years to completely recover.
Watson worked as a nurse during the First World War for which she was rewarded as a Member of the Order of the British Empire. Maud Watson, who did not marry, died at Hammersmead House in Charmouth on 5 June 1946, at the age of 81.
|Blanche Bingley Hillyard|
Blanche Bingley Hillyard - 3 November 1863 – 6 August 1946
Born in Greenford in the London Borough of Ealing, Blanche Bingley was a member of the Ealing Lawn Tennis & Archery Club. In 1884, she competed in the first ever Wimbledon championships for women, and two years later she captured the first of her six singles titles. A seven-time finalist, Bingley's 13 finals remain a Wimbledon record as is the 14-year time span between her first and last titles.
Bingley's Wimbledon record suggests that she was the second strongest female player of her day, only behind Lottie Dod, who defeated her in five finals.
Once married to Commander George Whiteside Hillyard (in Greenford on 13 July 1887), Bingley was recorded with her husband's name and is usually listed in various records as Blanche Bingley Hillyard. At age 36, she again won the Wimbledon final and continued to compete until age 49, playing her last Wimbledon in 1913.
During her career, she also won the Irish championships on three occasions (1888, 1894, 1897) and the German championship, played in Hamburg, twice; in 1897, defeating Charlotte Cooper Sterry in the final in three sets, and in 1900 against Muriel Robb, also in three sets. Additionally, she won the South of England Championships at Eastbourne, then a major event, 11 times between 1885 and 1905.
Blanche Bingley Hillyard died in London in 1946. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2013.
|Charlotte "Lottie" Dod|
Charlotte "Lottie" Dod (24 September 1871 – 27 June 1960)
Chatlotte was an English sportswoman best known as a tennis player. She won the Wimbledon Ladies' Singles Championship five times, the first one when she was only fifteen in the summer of 1887. She remains the youngest ladies' singles champion, though Martina Hingis was three days younger when she won the women's doubles title in 1996.
In addition to tennis, Dod competed in many other sports, including golf, field hockey, and archery. She also won the British Ladies Amateur Golf Championship, played twice for the England women's national field hockey team (which she helped to found, and won a silver medal at the 1908 Summer Olympics in archery. The Guinness Book of Records has named her as the most versatile female athlete of all time, together with track and field athlete and fellow golf player Babe Zaharias.
Dod was born on 24 September 1871 in Bebington, Cheshire, the youngest of four children to Joseph and Margaret Dod. Joseph, from Liverpool, had made a fortune in the cotton trade. The family was wealthy enough to provide for all members for life; Lottie and her brother Willy never had to work. Besides Willy, Lottie had a sister, Annie, and another brother, Tony, all of whom also excelled in sports. Annie was a good tennis player, golfer, ice skater and billiards player. Willy Dod won the Olympic gold medal in archery at the 1908 Games, while Tony was a regional level archer and a chess and tennis player. The Dod children received a private education by tutors and governesses.
In her childhood Lottie played the piano, banjo and she was member of a local choir. When Dod was nine years old, two tennis courts were built near the family's estate, Edgeworth. Lawn tennis, invented in 1873, was highly fashionable for the wealthy in England, and all of the Dod children started playing the game frequently. Tennis parties were occasionally organized and among the invited guests were future Wimbledon champions Joshua Pim and the brothers Herbert and Wilfred Baddeley.
When she was eleven Dod joined the Rock Ferry Tennis Club in Birkenhead, Together with Annie, who was eight years older, Dod entered her first tennis tournament, the 1883 Northern Championships in Manchester, at age eleven. They had a bye in the first round and lost in the second round of the doubles tournament to Hannah Keith and Amber McCord, but won the consolation tournament. One journalist, Sydney Brown, noted that "Miss L. Dod should be heard of in the future".
The following year, 1884, she participated in two tournaments, the Northern Championships, played that year in Liverpool, and Waterloo. With Annie she reached the doubles finals in both tournaments and with Tony she was defeated in the first round of the mixed doubles event at Waterloo. At the Northern Championships in 1885, she came to prominence when she nearly beat reigning Wimbledon champion Maud Watson in the final, losing 6–8, 5–7. Dod would win the doubles event (with Annie). Earlier she had won the first singles title of her career at the Waterloo tournament where she was also victorious in the doubles and mixed doubles events. These performances earned her the nickname "Little Wonder" in the press.
In 1886 Dod won the singles title at the West of England Championships in Bath where she defeated Watson in the final and ending the latter's run of 55 consecutive victories. That year she played tournaments in Liverpool (Northern), Cheltenham and Derbyshire but won no further singles titles. In 1887 Dod became an established first-class player, illustrated by the fact she partnered then seven-time Wimbledon doubles winner Ernest Renshaw at the mixed doubles event of the Irish Championships. She won the singles in Dublin defeating Watson in the final in straight sets.
She again won the singles title at the Northern, defeating leading players Louisa Martin, May Langrishe and Watson without losing a set and conceding no more than two games per set. Encouraged by these results she decided to enter the 1887 Wimbledon Championships. Only six competitors, not including Martin and Watson, had entered. Dod had a bye in the first round and easily advanced through the semifinal and final of the All-Comer's tournament to earn the right to challenge the defending champion, Blanche Bingley. She defeated Bingley in straight sets 6–2, 6–0, the second set lasting just ten minutes. At 15 years and 285 days she was the youngest ever winner of the ladies' singles championships. During the match, Dod wore a metal-and-whalebone corset which punctured her skin and caused her to bleed as she played.
The two met again in the final of the 1888 West of England Championships. Although it was designated an "open" tournament, the officials made the remarkable decision to impose a handicap of 15 on Dod. She still managed to win against her opponent, now known by her married name, Blanche Hillyard. The Wimbledon final of 1888 was a rematch of the previous year, and Dod, this time defending her title in the Challenge Round, again emerged victorious (6–3, 6–3). During that year she won several doubles and mixed doubles titles with her sister Annie, May Langrishe and Ernest Renshaw.
Lottie Dod's style of play, then regarded as unorthodox, now seems notably modern. She was perhaps the first player to advocate hitting the ball just before the top of the bounce and to adopt a modern, albeit single-handed, racquet grip. Her ground strokes were reported by contemporaries to be unusually firmly hit by the standards of the time, but – like many female players of the day – she served underhand and only rarely employed spin.
Dod only entered one open tournament in 1889 (the Northern Championships, which she won), and failed to attend Wimbledon, much to the disappointment of her fans. Together with Annie and some friends, she was on a sailing trip off the Scottish coast, and didn't want to return in time for Wimbledon. This was followed by a complete absence from the game in 1890.
After failing to do so in 1889, Dod was determined to win Wimbledon three times in a row, starting in 1891. Although it was her only competitive appearance of that season, she won her third Wimbledon title by defeating Hillyard (6–2, 6–1) in the final of the All-Comers tournament. The reigning champion Lena Rice did not defend her title. 1892 saw Dod's first singles defeat in an open tournament since 1886 when she lost to Louisa Martin of Ireland in the second round of the Irish Championships. It was the last of only five losses in her entire tennis career and her only defeat after the age of 15. She continued the year strongly, culminating in another easy straight-set Wimbledon victory over Hillyard. Dod's last tennis season as a competitive player was 1893, and she played in just two tournaments, The Northern in Manchester and Wimbledon, winning both. On both occasions, she defeated Blanche Hillyard in three sets, despite a heavy fall in the Wimbledon final. Her record of five Wimbledon titles would not last for long, as Hillyard, after losing in the final to Dod five times, won her sixth title in 1900. Suzanne Lenglen broke Dod's record of three consecutive singles wins by winning from 1919 to 1923.
Apart from entering women's tournaments, Dod sometimes also played and won matches against men (who usually played with a handicap), and on one occasion defeated star players Ernest Renshaw and George Hillyard (the husband of Blanche) when doubling with Herbert Baddeley.
This was actually the all-comers final as Helena Rice did not defend her 1890 Wimbledon title, which resulted in the winner of the all-comers final winning the challenge round and, thus, Wimbledon in 1891 by walkover.
Although tennis would remain Dod's favourite sport, she shifted her attention to other activities in the following years. In 1895, she joined her brother Tony on a trip to the winter sports resort of St. Moritz, which was very popular with English travellers. There, she passed the St. Moritz Ladies's Skating Test, the most prestigious figure skating event for women at the time. Dod also rode the toboggan on the famous Sankt Moritz Cresta Run, and began mountaineering with her brother, climbing two mountains over 4,000 m in February 1896.
After a long cycling trip in Italy, Lottie and Tony returned to England, only to come back to St Moritz in November, now accompanied by their mother and brother Willy. This time, Dod took the St. Moritz Men's Skating Test and passed, as the second woman ever. She also competed in curling. In the summer of 1897, she and Tony again ascended several mountains, this time in Norway.
The sport of women's field hockey was still rather young when Dod took up the game in 1897. She was one of the founding members of a women's hockey club in Spital. Playing as a central forward, she was soon named captain of the team. Club matches in which Dod played were won, while losses happened only in her absence.
By 1899, Dod had made it to captain of the Cheshire county team, and represented her club at meetings of the women's hockey association for the northern counties. She first played in the English national team on 21 March that year, winning 3–1 over Ireland. Both English goals in the 1900 England and Ireland rematch were scored by Dod, securing a 2–1 victory. Dod failed to attend the match against Wales, suffering from sciatica attacks which kept her from sporting for months.
Although she had recovered by 1901, Dod would not play again in national or county matches. All members of the Dod family stopped attending sports events for a while after their mother died on 1 August 1901, and Dod apparently lost her interest in field hockey during that period, although she did occasionally play for Spital Club until 1905.
Few golf clubs allowed women to play around the time Lottie Dod first played golf at age fifteen. Unlike tennis, Dod found golf a difficult sport to master. By the time she got seriously interested in the sport, the Ladies Golf Union (LGU) had been founded, and women's golf had become a real sport.
Dod helped establish a ladies' golf club at Moreton in 1894 and entered that year's National Championships (match play) at Littlestone (Kent). She was eliminated in the third round, but Dod's interest in the sport grew, and she became a regular competitor in the National Championships and other tournaments for the next few years. In 1898 and 1900 she reached the semi-finals of the National Championships, but was defeated narrowly both times. In 1900, she also played in an unofficial country match against Ireland, which the English won 37–18.
Dod did not compete in golf in 1901, and hardly entered major tournaments in the next two years, but she did play in the 1904 British Ladies Amateur, held at Troon. She qualified for the semi-finals for the third time in her life, and won it for the first time. Her opponent in the final was May Hezlet, the champion of 1899 and 1902. The match was very close, and the two were tied after 17 holes. Hezlet missed her putt on the final hole narrowly, after which Dod grabbed an unexpected victory, becoming the first, and to date only, woman to win British tennis and golf championships.
Following her victory, Dod sailed to Philadelphia, where she had been invited by Frances C. Griscom, a former American golf champion, to attend the U.S. Women's Amateur as a spectator. Upon arrival, Dod found out the tournament regulations had been changed to allow for non-Americans to compete, and she was requested to compete. Her loss in the first round was a disappointment, but Dod persuaded several Americans to come and play in the British championships the following year.
In the week before these 1905 championships, three international matches were planned, starting off with the first British-American international match. Dod was the only British player to lose a match, as the United Kingdom won 6–1. Dod then played for the English team in a 3–4 defeat against Scotland and a 4–3 win over Ireland, although she lost both her matches. Dod was then eliminated in the fourth round of the National Championships. It was to be her last appearance in golf.
In the autumn of 1905, Dod and her brothers sold "Edgeworth" and moved to a new home near Newbury, Berkshire. They had been practising archery from the times before, but all three became more serious now and joined the Welford Park Archers in Newbury. As one of their ancestors was said to have commanded the English longbowmen at the Battle of Agincourt, they found this an appropriate sport.
|Women's Olympic Archery Team 1908|
Lottie Dod won her first tournament by 1906, and finished fifth in the Grand National Archery Meeting of 1906, 1907 and 1908. Dod's performances in the 1908 season earned her a spot on the British Olympic team. The field in the women's archery event consisted only of British women, but without the best archer of the era, Alice Legh. Dod led the competition, after the first day but was surpassed by Queenie Newall on the second day, taking second place with 642 points to Newall's 688. Her brother Willy secured the gold medal in the men's competition.
In 1910, Dod came close to winning the Grand National, which would have made archery the third sport in which she became a national champion. Both Lottie and her brother William led after day one, but moved down to second on the final competition day. After the Welford Archers were disbanded in late 1911, the Dods' interest in archery faded, meaning the end of Lottie Dod's long competitive sports career.
In 1913, Willy and Lottie moved to a new house in Bideford (Tony had married in the meantime). When World War I broke out, Willy enlisted with the Royal Fusiliers, while his sister worked for the British Red Cross from November 1916 at Chelsea VAD Hospital and in a military hospital in Speen, Berkshire.
Dod wanted to be transferred to the war zones in France but was hampered by sciatica and never served as a nurse outside England. She did receive a Service Medal by the Red Cross for serving more than 1,000 hours during the war.
She then lived in London and Devon, and she never failed to attend the Wimbledon Championships until she was in her late eighties. After her brother Willy died in 1954, she lived in several nursing homes on the English south coast, eventually settling at the Birchy Hill Nursing Home in Sway, Hampshire. There she died, unmarried, at age 88, passing away while listening to the Wimbledon radio broadcasts in bed.
Dod was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1983.
Helena Bertha Grace "Lena" Rice (21 June 1866 – 21 June 1907)
Helena “Lena” Rice was an Irish tennis player who won the singles title at the 1890 Wimbledon Championships. She is to date the only female player from Ireland to ever win a singles title at Wimbledon.
Lena Rice was born the second-youngest of the eight children of Spring Rice and Anna Gorde in 1866. Her family lived in a two-storied Georgian building at Marlhill, half a mile from New Inn, County Tipperary. When her father died in 1868, her mother struggled to manage the household. Lena learned to play tennis with her sister Anne in their large garden at Marlhill, and both girls entered the Cahir Lawn Tennis club.
Rice's first tournament outside County Tipperary were the Irish Championships at Dublin in May 1889. There she lost 5–7, 5–7 to Blanche Bingley Hillyard in the semifinals. In doubles competition, she reached the final partnering Hillyard, and in mixed doubles she won the title along with Willoughby Hamilton.
Later that year, Rice played at the Wimbledon Championships. She reached the final where she met Hillyard once again. She won the first set 6–4 and had three match points at 5–3, 40–15 and advantage in the second, but Hillyard managed to come back and eventually won 4–6, 8–6, 6–4.
The next year, only four players participated at the singles event at Wimbledon. After winning over Mary Steedman 7–5, 6–2 in the first round, her opponent in the All-comers final was May Jacks. Rice won 6–4, 6–1 and as defending champion Blanche Hillyard was pregnant and didn't enter the tournament, Rice won the title, the 50-guineas challenger trophy and a cash prize of 20 guineas.
After her 1890 Wimbledon title, there is no record of Rice ever again playing tennis at a tournament. As her mother died in 1891, it seems likely that family ill health prevented her from continuing her tennis career.
Rice, who never married, died of tuberculosis on her 41st birthday in 1907. She was buried at the New Inn cemetery, close to her parents, her brother Samel and her sister Agnes.
|A Typical Victorian Tennis Match|
Edith Lucy Austin Greville (née Austin; 15 December 1867 – 27 July 1953)
Edith Greville was English female tennis player who was active from the 1890s until around 1920. She was married to fellow player George Greville.
Between 1893 and 1919 she participated 16 times in the single event of the Wimbledon Championships and achieved her best result in 1894 and 1896 when she reached the final of the all-comers tournament. In 1894 she lost to Blanche Hillyard in straight sets, winning just two games and Hillyard became champions as the title holder Lottie Dod did not defend her title. In 1896 she lost the all-comers final in three sets to Alice Pickering, In her last two Wimbledon appearances in 1913 and 1919 she also played in the doubles and mixed doubles events.
She won the singles title at the Kent Championships on six occasions (1894-97, 1899, 1900).
In 1894 she defeated May Arbuthnot in a three-set final to win the singles title of the British Covered Court Championships, played on wood courts at the Queen's Club in London. Arbuthnot failed to convert two matchpoints. The following year, 1895, she lost her title in the challenge round to Charlotte Cooper. From 1896 to 1899 she won four consecutive titles, defeating Cooper twice in the final. In 1894, 1899 and 1901 she won the Queen's Club Championships grass court tournament.
In 1896 she was a runner-up at the South of England Championships in Eastbourne, losing the final to Blanche Hillyard in three sets.
|Charlotte Cooper Sterry|
Charlotte Cooper Sterry ( 22 September 1870 – 10 October 1966)
Charlotte Cooper Sterry was a female tennis player from England who won five singles titles at the Wimbledon Championships and in 1900 became Olympic champion. In winning in Paris on July 11th 1900, she became the first female Olympic tennis champion as well as the first individual female Olympic champion.
Charlotte Cooper was born on 22 September 1870 at Waldham Lodge, Ealing, Middlesex, England, the youngest daughter of Henry Cooper, a miller, and his wife Teresa Georgiana Miller. She learned to play tennis at the Ealing Lawn Tennis Club where she was first coached by H. Lawrence and later by Charles Martin and Harold Mahony. She won her first senior singles title in 1893 at Ilkley .
Between 1893 and 1917 she participated in 21 Wimbledon tournaments. At her first appearance she reached the semifinals of the singles event in which she lost to Blanche Bingley Hillyard. She won her first singles title in 1895, defeating Helen Jackson in the final of the All-Comers event. In that match she was down 0–5 in both sets but managed to win in straight sets.
In 1896, she successfully defended her title in the Challenge Round against Alice Simpson Pickering. Between 1897 and 1901 the titles were divided between Cooper Sterry (1898, 1901) and Bingley Hillyard (1897, 1899, 1900). The 1902 Challenge Round match against Muriel Robb was halted on the first day of play due to rainfall at 6–4, 11–13. The match was replayed in its entirety the next day and Robb won 7–5, 6–1, playing a total of 53 games which was then a record for the longest women's singles final.
In 1908 as a mother of two she won her last singles title when she defeated Agnes Morton in straight sets in the All-Comers final after a seven-year hiatus and at the age of 37. She is the oldest Wimbledon's ladies’ singles champion and her record of eight consecutive singles finals stood until 1990 when Martina Navratilova reached her ninth consecutive singles final.
In addition to her singles titles, Cooper Sterry also won seven All-England mixed doubles titles; five times with Harold Mahony (1894–1898)  and once with Laurence Doherty (1900) and Xenophon Casdagli (1908).[c] In 1913 she reached the final of the first Wimbledon women's doubles event with Dorothea Douglass, 18 years after winning her first Wimbledon title.
She won the singles title at the Irish Lawn Tennis Championships in 1895 and 1898 - a prestigious tournament at the time . At the 1900 Summer Olympics, where women participated for the first time, Cooper Sterry won the tennis singles event. On 11 July 1900 she defeated Hélène Prévost in the final in straight sets and became the first female Olympic tennis champion as well as the first individual female Olympic champion. With Reginald Doherty, she won the mixed doubles title after a straight-sets victory in the final against Hélène Prévost and Harold Mahony. In 1901 she won the singles title at the German Championships, and in 1902 she won the Swiss Championship. Cooper Sterry remained active in competitive tennis and continued to play in championship events well into her 50s.
On 12 January 1901 she married Alfred Sterry, a solicitor, who became president of the Lawn Tennis Association. They had two children: Rex (born 1903) who was the vice-chairman of the All England Club for a period of 15 years during the 1960s and 1970s and Gwen (born 1905), a tennis player who participated at Wimbledon and played on Britain's Wightman Cup team.
Cooper Sterry had an offensive style of playing, attacking the net when the opportunity arose. She was one of a few female players of her time who served overhead. Her main strengths were her steadiness, temperament and tactical ability. Her excellent volleying skills stood out at a time when this was still a rarity in ladies tennis.
Cooper Sterry, who had been deaf since the age of 26, died on 10 October 1966 at the age of 96, in Helensburgh, Scotland
She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2013.
Alice Pickering (1860 – 18 February 1939 née Alice Simpson)
Alice Pickering was an English tennis player who played at the Wimbledon Championships from 1895 to 1901. In 1896, she won the all-comers-competition at Wimbledon 1896, but lost the challenge round against Charlotte Cooper 2-6, 3-6. She again reached the all-comers final in the following year, but this time lost to Blanche Bingley.
In 1896 she won the doubles competition at the Irish Championships partnering Ruth Durlacher.
Mary Louisa "Mollie" Martin (3 September 1865, Newtowngore, Ireland – 24 October 1941, Portrush, Northern Ireland)
Mary "Mollie" Martin was a tennis player from Ireland. In 1898 she reached the final of the Wimbledon Championships, but was beaten 6-4, 6-4 by Charlotte Cooper.
She won nine singles titles at the Irish Lawn Tennis Championships.
In my next blog post I will be examining some early 20th century female tennis players from the Edwardian and post war era's.