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Atkinson, Juliette Paxton (15 April 1873–12 January 1944), tennis player, was born at Rahway, New Jersey, and grew up in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Jerome Gill Atkinson, a physician, and Kate McDonald. She and her younger sister, Kathleen, taught themselves to play lawn tennis at Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn. They carried their own net, poles, stakes, rackets, and balls, erecting and dismantling their court each trip. For social reasons, they joined the Kings County Tennis Club about 1891. Club tournaments soon roused their competitive instincts. “Julie” first entered open tournaments during 1893, winning two of three handicap events in the New York City area and losing in the first round of the Middle States Championship at Mountain Station, New Jersey. Atkinson and Helen Hellwig, the club’s best women players, entered the 1894 National Championship at Wissahickon, Pennsylvania, and won the women’s doubles, while Atkinson and Eddie Fischer captured the mixed doubles title. In the singles, Atkinson lost a close struggle in the semifinals to Bertha Townsend Toulmin, the champion of 1888 and 1889. Hellwig, however, defeated Toulmin in the all-comers final and then vanquished Aline Terry, the defending titleholder, in a five-set challenge round to become U.S. champion. (Customarily women’s matches were the best of three sets, but from 1891 through 1901 their finals and challenge rounds were the best of five sets.) Later, Atkinson bested Hellwig in five sets to win the 1894 Middle States crown....

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Patricia Jane Berg. Watercolour on paper, 1980, by Dick Dugan. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Berg, Patricia Jane (13 February 1918–10 September 2006), professional golfer, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the third of four children in a strongly Catholic family. Patty, who attended John Brown Elementary School, was a self-confessed tomboy and excellent all-around athlete (particularly speed skating). She turned to golf after her mother objected to constant bruises and torn dresses following neighborhood football games with boys....

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Blanchard, Theresa Weld (24 August 1893–12 March 1978), figure skater, was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, the daughter of Alfred Windsor Weld, a stockbroker, and Theresa Davis. Theresa Weld attended private schools and enjoyed the privileges of membership in the Country Club of Brookline, where she learned horsemanship, tennis, and figure skating. She won her first meet in a skating event intended for males only. While awaiting the scores, she overheard one judge remark, “Give it to the pretty girl.”...

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Browne, Mary Kendall (03 June 1891–19 August 1971), tennis player and golfer, was born in Ventura County, California, the daughter of Albert William Browne, a rancher and Spanish-American War captain, and Neotia Rice. She attended Los Angeles (Calif.) Polytechnic High School. Her older brother Nathaniel Borrodail Browne, an excellent tennis competitor, taught Mary a sound all-court style and sharpened her volleying and smashing skills in practice by stationing her at the net to parry his hardest drives....

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Bundy, May Godfray Sutton (25 September 1887–04 October 1975), tennis player, was born in Plymouth, England, the daughter of Adolphus Ade G. Sutton, an English navy captain, and Adelina E. Godfray. Her family immigrated to the United States when she was six. On the clay court built by one of her two older brothers and a sister on the family ranch near Pasadena, California, Bundy at age ten followed in the footsteps of three of her four older sisters by becoming a tennis enthusiast. Beginning tournament play in 1898, Bundy won the prestigious Southern California Women’s Singles Championship in 1899 at age twelve. Because she was the strongest, quickest, and most determined of the sisters, by 1901 she emerged as the best of the quartet, leading to the often-heard quip in California that it took a Sutton to beat a Sutton....

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Collett, Glenna (20 June 1903–03 February 1989), champion golfer, was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the daughter of George H. Collett, a life insurance agent, and Ada Wilkinson. Collett, the leading woman golfer in the United States in the 1920s and early 1930s, became interested in golf as a teenager accompanying her father on a course in Providence, Rhode Island. At fourteen she took her first lessons from John Anderson of the Metacomel Club in Providence; he helped her develop the rhythmic swing that was her hallmark. Later, she received instruction from ...

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Connolly, Maureen Catherine (17 September 1934–21 June 1969), tennis player, was born in San Diego, California, the daughter of Martin J. Connolly, a chief petty officer in the navy, and Jassamine Wood, a church organist. Connolly graduated from Cathedral High School in 1951. Although initially passionate about horses, she switched her energies to tennis while on the University Heights playground in San Diego, California. There a local tennis pro, Wilbur Folsom, observed her natural ability. While Folsom changed her into a right-handed player, Eleanor Tennant developed Connolly’s talents. Tennant, who had helped develop the tennis talents of champions Alice Marble and ...

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Dancer, Faye Katherine (24 April 1925–22 May 2002), baseball player, was born in Santa Monica, California, the daughter of Lloyd Dancer, an inspector for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and Olive Pope Dancer, a schoolteacher. While in grade school, Dancer took up softball. Starting out with the Redondo Belles softball team, she grew up practicing her slides on the sands of Santa Monica beach and visualizing her swings as she daydreamed about a career in the game. Dancer attended University High School in West Los Angeles and enjoyed various sports. She once broke an all-city basketball record when she shot 42 baskets in a minute; ran an obstacle course in 9.4 seconds, and fast-walked the half mile in 2 minutes and 42 seconds. From 1940 to 1942 she and her lifelong friend Lavonne "Pepper" Paire Davis played for the Dr. Peppers, a winning class-A amateur girls' softball team sponsored by the Dr. Pepper soft drink company....

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Babe Didrikson Competing in the first heat of the 80-meter hurdles, winning in a record-breaking 11.8 seconds, at the Los Angeles Olympics, 1932. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-113281).

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Didrikson, Babe (26 June 1914?–27 September 1956), athlete, was born Mildred Ella Didriksen in Port Arthur, Texas, the daughter of Ole Nickolene Didriksen, a ship’s carpenter and cabinetmaker, and Hannah Marie Olsen, an accomplished skater and skier. Didrikson herself was later to change the last syllable of the surname from - ...

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Ederle, Gertrude (23 October 1905–30 November 2003), swimmer, was born in New York City, the daughter of Henry Ederle (pronounced EDD-ur-lee, with the accent on the first syllable) and Gertrude Hazerstroh. Both parents were German immigrants. At the age of five Gertrude, known as Trudy, was stricken with a severe case of measles that left her hearing impaired. The Ederles owned a butcher shop on the West Side of Manhattan; as she grew older Trudy worked in the shop after school and during the summer along with her five siblings....

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Eustis, Dorothy Harrison (30 May 1886–08 September 1946), philanthropist to the blind, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Charles Custis Harrison, an educator and businessman, and Ellen Nixon Waln. Born into a socially prominent Philadelphia family, Dorothy Harrison attended the Agnes Irwin School in Philadelphia and the Rathgowrie School in Eastbourne, England. In 1906 she married a considerably older man, Walter Abbott Wood, Jr., a former New York State senator; they had two sons. Residing on a large estate in Hoosick Falls, New York, she and her husband conducted a series of selective cattle breeding experiments aimed at increasing milk productivity....

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Farrar, Margaret Petherbridge (23 March 1897–11 June 1984), crossword puzzle editor, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Henry Petherbridge, owner of a licorice factory, and Margaret Furey. (She was to take the name Farrar when she married in 1926.) After graduating from Smith College in 1919 with a B.A. degree, she worked briefly in a bank. Looking for something more exciting, she took a job in 1920 as secretary to her college roommate’s stepfather, John O’Hara Cosgrave, Sunday editor of the ...

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Althea Gibson. Watercolor and pencil on board, 1957, by Boris Chaliapin. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Time magazine.

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Gibson, Althea (25 August 1927–28 September 2003), tennis player and professional golfer, was born in Silver, South Carolina, to Daniel Gibson and Annie Bell Gibson, sharecroppers. In 1930 the family moved from the rural South to the urban North, relocating in Harlem, where her three sisters and brother were born. Althea frequently skipped school and repeatedly ran away from home, and this resulted in regular whippings from her father. Feisty and determined, Althea preferred to spend her time in bowling alleys and pool halls. Althea was an outstanding all-around athlete—she played any kind of ball sport, excelling at paddle tennis and basketball. A self-described tomboy, Althea also played football, and her father taught her how to box, a skill she used to navigate recurrent assaults from boys and girls....

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Florence Griffith-Joyner. Used by permission of Photo Kishimoto.

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Griffith-Joyner, Florence (21 December 1959–21 September 1998), track and field star, was born Delorez Florence Griffith in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Robert Griffith, an electrician, and Florence Griffith (maiden name unknown), seamstress. When “Dee Dee” (as she was nicknamed) was four, her parents divorced and she moved with her mother and siblings to a housing project in the Watts section of Los Angeles. She began running while in elementary school at meets sponsored by the Sugar Ray Robinson Youth Foundation, and by the age of fifteen she had won two consecutive Jesse Owens National Youth Games. As a member of an impoverished but disciplined family, Griffith learned from her grandmother how to style hair and fingernails, and she continued to excel in track and field at David Starr Jordan High School, from which she graduated in 1978....

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Sonja Henie At the Winter Olympics. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-100744).

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Henie, Sonja (08 April 1912–12 October 1969), figure skater and film actress, was born in Oslo, Norway, the daughter of Hans Wilhelm Henie, a wealthy fur trader, and Selma Lochman-Nielsen. In her autobiography Henie described herself as sometimes feeling like a “lottery winner.” If by that she meant that she was born into circumstances allowing her the opportunity to develop into a world-class athlete, she was certainly correct. Her father was a champion sportsman himself and encouraged her to skate and ski from an early age. Once her talent for figure skating became apparent, her parents invested a portion of their wealth in her skating career, providing her with the coaching, dance lessons, costumes, and tutors that allowed her to quit school and concentrate on her sport....