A Woman to Know: Mary Ewing Outerbridge

Men would say, ‘This is bad for women. Women shouldn’t run around and perspire’ … But women loved tennis. — Warren F. Kimball

Men would say, ‘This is bad for women. Women shouldn’t run around and perspire’ … But women loved tennis. — Warren F. Kimball

(Women playing tennis in Staten Island, image via The Staten Island Museum)

In 1874, while on vacation in Bermuda, Mary Ewing Outerbridge fell in love with a simple game: lawn tennis. She played all summer and at the end of her trip, determined to bring the fun back to the baseball-obsessed United States, lugged suitcases of equipment on board for the journey home.

Once back in the States, she convinced the Staten Island cricket club, of which her father was a charter member, to give the game a try. The game caught on — first with men, and then with women. In 1880, she hosted the first-ever tennis tournament, held at the very same club in Staten Island.

In 1887, the first women’s championship would be held — but Mary, sick from Brighton’s disease, would die the year before. Over the next 20 years, the game would slowly grow in popularity, spreading from her hometown across the United States. Historians continue to debate over who exactly taught tennis to the masses, but they give credit to Mary for bringing those early rackets over. Today, she’s celebrated as “the mother of American tennis.”

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