Here is one woman's small tribute to Maud Watson from 2011
“Find something that you're really interested
in doing in your life.
Pursue it, set goals and
commit yourself to excellence.
Do the best you can.”
~ Chris Evert ~
won Wimbledon Ladies' singles 3 times
As the country goes Wimbledon mad again I thought it would be fitting to take a look at the very first Ladies' Singles Champion Maud Watson.
Wimbledon is the oldest tennis tournament in the world and its men's tournament started in 1877. Eventually, seven years later, they saw the light and added a women's tournament. A far cry from today's competition where over 100 women from around the world compete, just 13 pioneering women took part, including two sisters, Lilian and Maud Watson. The daughters of a Vicar, who taught at Harrow, they had long enjoyed playing tennis and Maud remained undefeated since starting to play competitively in 1881.
Aged just 19 she reached the finals and came face-to-face with her older sister. Dressed in a full length wool skirt, bustle, petticoats and a corset, as was the Victorian fashion, Maud showed a touch of feistiness by topping her outfit with a male straw boater. Maud was seen by the public as the better player but Lilian outclassed her sister and took the first set 6-8. As the 400 plus crowd watched on Maud fought back and won the next two 6-3, 6-3 ensuring her name would be remembered forever as the first Ladies' Singles Champion at Wimbledon. She was awarded a silver flower basket worth 20 guineas (the mens prize was worth 30) whilst her sister was given a silver and glass hand mirror and a silver-backed comb! Maud's flower basket can now be seen at the Wimbledon Museum.
Maud continued to play and won the title again the following year. However her tennis career was short lived as a near drowning off the coast of Jersey caused ill health for several years. During the First World War she became the Commandant of Berkswell Auxilliary Hospital and was later awarded an M.B.E for her work.
In 1926 she joined other past champions in a Wimbledon Jubilee Ceremony on centre court where she was presented with a commemorative medal by King George V and Queen Mary. She never married and died in 1946 aged 81 having inspired many young girls to take up tennis professionally. She is buried at St John the Baptist Parish Church in Berkswell, Warwickshire with her sister.
While I sit back and enjoy the Women's final on Saturday I will be saying a little thank you to Maud and the other Ladies who played in that first tournament proving convincingly that women could indeed play tennis - even in a corset!