Turning Behind Time In Wimbledon
The legacy of Women in Wimbledon
There was a tennis club just out of London in the UK in Wimbledon. They wanted to buy a grass roller but had no money. They had heard of this idea of a competition where people paid to watch matches like in cinema theatres. What if they did that?
So, to afford a grass roller Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Club started a men only competition. One seat cost 20 shillings.
21 men participated and it was a success!
They could definitely afford the roller now. But why stop this new stream of income? They decided to continue the competition. Thus my friends, Wimbledon Open was born.
Now a tube ride and a short bus trip takes you to the lawns. Over the years, the Wimbledon Club has shifted its premises.
Visiting Wimbledon is like arriving in royalty. The championship teems with elegance, tradition is the lifeline that lures us all.
If you take a tour of the grounds, it takes you through the art of court making and it’s maintenance. You can oversee the courts and sit in the audience stands at Centre Court.
When the championships are underway, there is a different story to tell. The entire premises are filled with people. And all in all during the championships in June, a cream strawberry is what is the talk of the week! Strawberries and cream is the famous food that captivates everyone. Cream and strawberries are freshly made from the people living in the vicinity. The strawberries ripen in June, perfectly in time for the championships.
The Wimbledon Museum shares the Championship’s complete story. The old rackets, tennis balls, advertisement’s and newspaper clippings are all on display. Let me tell you what is more captivating, there is also a display for the sport’s attire that Wimbledon has seen through the ages.
In 1884, Wimbledon open its doors to female players. It is also to year that they introduced the men’s doubles.
In this year, you can see how ego goes beyond money. Instead of 20 shillings for tickets, as was the normal ticket cost, the club sold tickets for 10 shillings for women’s matches. Preposterous indeed!
Why would you reduce profits by half just because women would be playing?
Furthermore, women’s matches were not allowed to begin before the men’s finished. The price for the woman winner was a silver flower basket valued at 20 guineas.
In 1884, 13 women eagerly enrolled for the championships. Two sisters – Lillian and Maud Watson reached the finals. 19 year old Maud Watson beat Lillian in three straight sets. She won Wimbledon again the next year.
Lottie Dodd in 1887 was the first Wimbledon the legend. She was the youngest winner ever at 15 years and 285 days. Her record is still unbroken today. She subsequently won 14 times from 1888 and 1893, dropping only one set in five years.
All this time, Wimbledon players wore white just like they do today. And remember, Wimbledon wasn’t international back then. Only British people participated.
In the museum, the clothes women wore were on display. They were ankle length white gowns with huge belts. Just looking at the ankle length restricting gown made me raise my eyebrows. How comfortable do you think it is to play wearing a sari?
That’s how comfortable those ladies were, if not worse.
Ladies wore white ankle length gowns and yes tight corsets too! And these corsets would probably be the same one which made ladies faint in ballrooms. The corsets basically were so tightly tied that it would be hard to breathe in them!
Would it get any worse? Yes.
Right in front of the display, there were weights. These weights symbolised how heavy putting all these clothes would have been. Guess how heavy they were?
500g, 1kg, 1.5kg…? No.
They were a good 4.5 kgs!
That make me think about all those times I decided that carrying 1kg was a burden!
Soon, pictures show that the gown got shorter, up to the calf and then the knee as the competition attained fame.
In Victorian Britain (19 century) showing your ankles for ladies was outlandish and punishable by law. Thus, there was no way women would have worn short skirts. If it wasn’t for the foreign players, we would have seen a different Wimbledon.
The underhand shots also changed to overhead ones and from Lottie Dodd we have changed to Serena Williams. Yet the halls here, beam with history and youthful energy.
Many players may come and go but the legacy forever remains on these hallowed courts and in our hearts.
As you come to the last display in the museum, there is a surprise waiting. The display has the two precious trophies.
About the trophies, I’ve noticed that the men get the huge trophy. It has the names of every man who has ever won Wimbledon inscribed on it. It is shiny and golden.
Behind this display stands the silver shield. This is the woman’s trophy. Why silver? Why just to shield? I wonder. If this is the tradition, why not change this one? Isn’t it but obvious that it should be changed? Or does Serena Williams work less hard then Andy Murray?
This is a featured article from our March Women’s History Month Issue. Subscribe to get the latest issue. Click here.