The Introduction of Tennis to America

Mary Outerbridge was the seventh of ten children born to wealthy Bermuda parents. She was born in Philadelphia, but it was a visit to the family’s home in Bermuda when she was 22 that impacted American society.

When Mary was in Bermuda, she witnessed a game played by British soldiers. She was attracted by the gracefulness and gentility of the game. She played the game herself and was delighted that both men and women could enjoy the sport. At the time, the game was called sphairistike. She decided to take home the necessary equipment and introduce the game to her friends.

When she arrived in America, customs officials would not let her have the equipment because it was so strange looking. Mary’s brother, who was a shipping executive, had to intervene. Mary then took the equipment to Staten Island and set up the first tennis court at a private club. The court had an hourglass shape, and the game itself was as much social engagement as a sport.

As the game moved to other locations, a problem arose. There was no consistency in the equipment or the size of the court. When Mary hosted a national tournament, no agreement could be reached on the equipment or the court, and some players refused to compete. This led to the creation of the United States National Lawn Tennis Association and an agreement on the court size and equipment.

Unfortunately, Mary did not see the growth of the sport as she died at the age of 34. For many years tennis remained a “country club” sport with limited participation by those with limited financial means. Over time, the sport has become more culturally diverse throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world. Major tennis championships feature strong competitors from all over the world.

Mary’s gift of tennis to America was not just the sport itself, but the fact that the sport was of interest to both men and women. She is a hidden hero in that she pioneered the realization that women could also be athletic and enjoy competitive sports. The first national championship for women came just 13 years after Mary introduced tennis to America.

* * *

“It doesn’t matter what your background is or where you come from, if you have dreams and goals, that’s all that matters.” – Serena Williams (Tennis Champion)

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.