Juliette Atkinson (1873-1944), by Stanley Wallis Merrihew
From “American Lawn Tennis”, June 1944
“Mrs Juliette Atkinson Buxton
“By Stanley Wallis Merrihew
“That Mrs Juliette Atkinson Buxton was the first queen of the tennis court can be assumed to be a fact, although her career stems from the last century. It is Jahial Parmly Paret who is responsible for the most apt characterisation. He was a contemporary of Juliette Atkinson, her partner and coach, and he did much to start her on the road to fame and to guide her in subsequent years. Miss Atkinson, who became Mrs George B. Buxton in 1918, died January 12 at the Buxton home in Lawrenceville, Illinois, of pneumonia following influenza. She was buried in the Buxton family plot at Norwalk, Connecticut.
“The following paragraph is taken from a letter written on April 17 by Mrs Buxton’s sister, Mrs George Partridge Richardson [née Kathleen Atkinson], of Maplewood, New Jersey: ‘As you saw her at Forest Hills in 1942, Juliette was always in buoyant health. She was so full of vitality that perhaps too much was expected of her – it was not realized until too late that she was dangerously ill. She was a most valiant soul to the end.’
“Miss Juliette Atkinson won the [US] singles championships three times, in 1895, 1897 and 1898. She was doubles champion seven times – in 1894 and 1895 with Miss Helen Helwig; in 1896 with Miss Elisabeth Moore; in 1897 and 1898 with her sister, Miss Kathleen Atkinson; in 1901 with Miss Myrtle McAteer; and in 1902 with Miss Marion Jones; and she won the mixed doubles three times with Edwin P. Fischer, in 1904, 1905 and 1906.
“The Atkinson sisters lived in Brooklyn, New York. They were the daughters of Jerome Gill Atkinson. The girls picked up tennis as youngsters in Fort Greene Park. They carried their tennis nets, poles and stakes – which were always pulled out – as well as rackets and balls. They taught themselves how to play, for Mrs Richardson does not remember anyone ever showing them how to play.
“Juliette was a natural athlete. She played every game, engaged in every sport open to women, and excelled in all of them. She was a marvellous swimmer, won medals for skating, ribbons for riding and took up golf only a few years ago. Although Kathleen had a distinct advantage in height – Juliette was only five feet high – she was never able to beat her sister, who was never afraid and never tired.
“The two girls joined the King’s County Tennis Club in 1891 or 1892 for social reasons. Juliette’s tennis was casual and only one of many pursuits. But the club competitions aroused ambition, and Juliette especially accepted suggestions and help. By 1894 she and Helen Helwig (Mrs William H. Pouch, also of Brooklyn), were far and away ahead of any other girls. They went to Philadelphia for the national championship in 1894 and Helen won the singles, meeting and beating Juliette in the final round. But Juliette learned much in that first tournament, and the next year, 1895, it was her turn to win the title.
“She owed much to her mixed doubles partners, Dr William N. Fraser and, later, Edwin P. Fischer. She was very receptive to teaching. Jahial Parmly Paret was a good friend and critic, too. In 1895 Juliette and Helen Helwig met again and Juliette won. Bessie Moore came into the picture that year and was finalist; the champion did not play through. In 1896, shortly before the championship, which was then held in the middle of June, in the Middle States Championship at Orange, New Jersey, Juliette sprained an ankle (previously injured in a horse show accident) and was obliged to default to Bessie Moore.
“After that she had light leather shoes specially made, with spikes, and used them instead of the regulation sneakers. But in the National Championship shortly afterward in 1896, she defended against Bessie Moore with her ankle still taped, and lost. Later in the season she beat Bessie Moore at Niagara-on-the-Lake, winning the Canadian Championship, and then the International Championship. Bessie Moore’s father donated the Canadian cups. Juliette’s sister believes that except for that default and that defeat she never lost a match during the four years when she was supreme.
“It was just fifty years ago, at the Kings County Tennis Club in 1894, that Parmly Paret first met Juliette Atkinson. She and Helen Helwig were the star players of the club and there was a close rivalry between them. With Dr Fraser as her partner Juliette was seldom beaten in mixed doubles. These battles were a constant source of interest to the other members of the King’s County Club and to visitors who watched the play.
“With Bessie Moore as his partner Parmly Paret played many exciting matches against Juliette and Dr Fraser and ‘Eddie’ Fischer, in Brooklyn and at the Philadelphia Cricket Club during the national championship. Paret writes that Juliette was especially keen and active in her play, and that she was one of the best sportsmen he ever played against. Her ground strokes were well executed and her volleying was very crisp and effective. Short as she was she seldom missed a smash at the net; and she played in very close in mixed doubles.
“Parmly Paret coached Bessie Moore for her championship campaign in 1896, when she won the great title for the first time. As Bessie was a much harder hitter in ground strokes they worked out a campaign of pounding to the corners and lobbing whenever ‘Julie’ came to the net. It was very difficult to pass her in the volleying position, but the girls of those days could not kill overhead from back of the service line and so they felt that deep lobbing was a perfect defence; and it worked out very well.
“As has been related in ‘American Lawn Tennis’, Mrs Buxton came to New York in 1942 especially to see the championship at Forest Hills. She brought with her the challenge cup that she had made her own by winning the great title three times; it is a beautiful piece of silverware. This cup she presented to the West Side Tennis Club. President Alrick H.Man met Mrs Buxton as she entered the grounds of the club, with Mrs Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman. During the remainder of the meeting Mrs Buxton sat in President Man’s box in the marquee.
“She thoroughly enjoyed her visit, and as Man put it, ‘She could not have been more enthusiastic than she was about the game, and revealed that she had followed closely all the championships, men’s and women’s, and was delighted to see closely all the leading players of 1942.’
“As is plain from the foregoing, Juliette Atkinson was remarkable as a person and as a player. She was, as her sister makes clear, full of life and vitality. To tennis followers of the present day, and also to those of two or three decades ago, she was almost a legendary figure. That she loved the game until the end is indisputable. She talked of it to the present writer in 1942, and greatly regretted the fact that she had not been able to keep in closer touch with it. It was still her great love and everything about it interested her.
“Sufficient has been said in this article to show that she was a great player. It was not until May Sutton came upon the scene, in 1904, that a similar figure appeared in the game. It is pleasing to know that Mrs Buxton did get to see Forest Hills and the game and its players as they were half a century after the name of Juliette Atkinson was inscribed on the honour roll of the game.”