The early Ladies' Championships of Germany

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by newmark401, Sep 17, 2009.

  1. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

    Aug 10, 2009
    This piece is really about the winners of the first ten Ladies' Championships of Germany.

    Part 1

    During the first two years of its existence, in 1896 and 1897, the ladies’ singles event was held in Hamburg. There followed a sojourn of four years in Bad Homburg, from 1898 to 1901. The tournament returned to Hamburg in 1902 and remained there, with breaks during the two world wars. Up until 1979, a men’s and women’s event was held concurrently in Hamburg (the men’s event was initially closed to foreign players). In 1979, the women’s event moved to Berlin with a new title, the Ladies’ German Open (this event was discontinued in 2009). A different WTA event was held in Hamburg in 1982 and 1983, and again from 1987 to 2002. No women’s event has been held in Hamburg since then.

    The information on Maren Thomsen and Elsie Lane, and the details of the 1902 tournament, won by Mary Roß, as well as some of the information on Toupie Lowther, are taken from the 1997 edition of “Tennis – A Cultural History” by Heiner Gillmeister. I have provided some additional information in square brackets. Detailed information on the careers of Blanche Bingley Hillyard and Charlotte Cooper Sterry is available from many sources, including the internet.

    The first two finals were played over the best of five sets. Unless otherwise indicated, the finalists are German. Results of the ladies’ singles final from 1896 to 1905:

    1896 Maren Thomsen d. E. Lantzius 6-3, 6-2, 7-5
    1897 Blanche Hillyard (GB) d. Charlotte Cooper (GB) 6-3, 6-2, 6-2
    1898 Elsie Lane (GB) d. Toupie Lowther (GB) 7-5, 7-5
    1899 Charlotte Cooper (GB) d. Countess Clara von der Schulenburg 7-5, 6-4
    1900 Blanche Hillyard (GB) d. Muriel Robb (GB) 2-6, 8-6, 7-5
    1901 Toupie Lowther (GB) d. Gladys Duddell (GB) 6-0, 6-0
    1902 Mary Roß d. Hilda Meyer 8-6, 6-0
    1903 Violet Pinckney (GB) d. Hilda Meyer 6-2, 6-1
    1904 Elsie Lane (GB) d. L. Bergmann 6-3 6-0
    1905 Elsie Lane (GB) d. K. Krug 6-0 6-1

    Maren Thomsen, champion in 1896

    In “Tennis – A Cultural History”, Hans Gillmesiter writes:

    “At the 1896 tournament, the first ladies’ championships of the country were also contested. In marked contrast to the men’s event, these were open championships. The prize had been presented a year before by an Englishman, Walter Howard, and it had been the intention of the donor to attract players from England. The trophy was, according to Baron Robert von Fichard [sports journalist and historian of tennis], not a cup, but a silver dish or bowl (‘eine silberne Schale’) which again testified to the organisers’ attempts to make the Hamburg tournament a true copy of the All England Championships where the ladies’ prize was a rosewater bowl.

    “Despite such clever stratagems, English ladies were in the first year conspicuous by their absence. The sliver dish therefore went to a German, Fräulein Maren Thomsen [b. April 1879], a rank outsider. Frl Lantzius, the favourite, who had in the first round easily eliminated another likely candidate for the victory, Frl Holtz, played ‘below her usual form’ in the final, resorting to a rather cowardly game from the baseline. Thus the more aggressive play of Frl Thomsen, of youthful appearance who possessed ‘a very good overhand service’, a rarity at the time, prevailed. Her victory in three straight sets, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5, was a very popular one, a fact which became apparent, the correspondent of ‘Spiel and Sport’ wrote, by the many kisses she received from the female supporters, and the handshakes form the gentlemen.

    “Frl Thomsen was at once heralded the ‘rising star’ on the German tennis scene, but her success was to remain an ephemeral one. Nothing more was ever heard of her. She had only just turned 17 when she won the championship. The only star, if any, German tennis was to produce in the years to come was Countess Clara von Schulenburg who had in the same event not even survived the first round, where she had been soundly beaten – by the very same Maren Thomsen, the eventual champion.

    “The first champion’s life does not seem to have been a very happy one. She was at one time engaged to a widower who had two children. He died before the marriage could take place. Afterwards she nursed her ailing parents and then for some time ran the household for her brother-in-law after the death of her elder sister. Failing to play the role of a mother for her sister’s only child, a daughter, she rather prematurely succumbed to a fatal disease [skin cancer] in 1936. Her death passed unnoticed.”

    Blanche Hillyard, champion in 1897 and 1900

    Blanche Hillyard, née Bingley (married 1887), was born on 3 November 1863 in Greenford, Middlesex, England.

    Blanche Hillyard won the German Championships in 1897, defeating Charlotte Cooper 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in the final, and again in 1900, beating Muriel Robb 2-6, 8-6, 7-5 in the final. Rather uniquely, Blanche’s husband, George (b. 6 February 1864) won the men’s singles title at the same event in the same two years.

    Blanche Hillyard appeared in a record 13 ladies’ singles final at Wimbledon, winning the title six times, in 1886, 1889, 1894, 1897, 1899 and 1900, and being runner-up in 1885, 1887, 1888, 1891, 1892, 1893 and 1901.

    Blanche Hillyard died on at her home, Greenford, Mare Hill, Pullborough, Sussex, on 6 August 1946. She was 82.

    Elsie Lane, champion in 1898, 1904 and 1905

    In “Tennis – A Cultural History”, Hans Gillmesiter writes:

    “The Ladies’ Championship of Germany was, as it were, the first act of a piece which might have come straight from contemporary Drury Lane theatre. Appropriately, the heroine of the drama went by the name of Elsie Lane [b. 22 June 1864 in Lucknow, India]. Miss Lane was a steady and accurate baseliner, equipped with a backhand which the correspondent of ‘Lawn Tennis’, rather ungentelemanly, chose to call ‘a scoop’. She beat the brilliant, albeit erratic Toupie Lowther, who had abandoned her usual play in favour of an uninspired game from the baseline, in two straight sets, 7-5, 7-5.

    “The champion, a resident of Hove, was to perform acts two and three in 1904 and 1905 and, after having won the title of Champion of Germany three times, captured Walter Howard’s silver dish for good. In 1906, a new trophy was presented by Grand Duke Frederick Francis of Mecklenburg Schwerin.

    “By 1904, the belief had become firmly established in the Fatherland that, if the National Women’s Champion (with the exception of Countess Clara von der Schulenberg) were to play Miss Lane, the outcome would be a ‘double bagel’, and by 1905, Elsie (in England less well known than her sister Hilda who frequently competed at Wimbledon) had acquired the epithet ‘invincible’. Her unfailing retrieving qualities were the terror of her continental opponents who knew that she would emerge victorious even if taken to rallies of 50 or 60 strokes. In 1905, an especially knowledgeable tennis enthusiast, who had heard about her serving a double fault, with broad sarcasm remarked: ‘Then she will die shortly!’ In the Fatherland, Elsie was the female counterpart of the infallible M.J.G. Ritchie, five times Champion of Germany between 1903 and 1908, whose style of playing it safe, however, was not recommended even there. The two were successful only, it was said, as long as they did not meet the ‘positive’ player, the one going for his or her point and who did not wait for the opponent’s errors. Championship honours were therefore denied to them in England.
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2010
  2. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

    Aug 10, 2009
    Part 2, continuing with Elsie Lane

    "The redoubtable Elsie was the daughter of Wilmot Lane [b. 19 September 1833], a barrister-at-law who had been a civil servant in India for almost a lifetime. He had retired in 1899, on an annuity of £1,000, and it was then that the father of nine decided to have a look at the brighter side of life. At the age of 56, and despite the handicap of having lost his left arm, ‘Little William’ was determined to become a lawn tennis great. In 1896, the tennis veteran ventured out onto the European Continent and began by scoring, at the age of 63, a minor success against a young player from Hamburg in the Handicap B event of Bad Homburg; afterwards he also competed in Baden-Baden. As late as 1902, he won first prize in a handicap event in Spa.

    “During his raids on the continent he apparently kept a watchful eye on his daughter, for Elsie never got married. However, her becoming a very successful player more than compensated for it. As early as 1896, in Bad Homburg and Baden-Baden, she was victorious in every event which she entered with the exception of the mixed doubles. Indeed, despite the fact that she never competed at Wimbledon, an expert such as Charles Adolph Voigt could speak of her as one of the best-known English tournament players. Her wrenching a first prize from Toupie Lowther in Bad Homburg in 1896 was watched with great interest by the donor of the trophy, the Prince of Wales. Her performance in Baden-Baden shortly afterwards elicited the highest praise imaginable. ‘Miss Lane,’ a correspondent of ‘Sport im Bild’ wrote, ‘the successful English player who in Homburg as well as Baden-Baden defeated all her opponents brilliantly’ demonstrated ‘the best tennis ever seen in the ladies’ game in Germany’. In 1897, when her father entered for the Championships of Germany in Hamburg, but then scratched, Elsie caused a mild sensation at once. She reached the semi-final of the women’s championships, losing 10-8, 6-0 to no less a player than Charlotte cooper, the All England champion of the previous year. Elsie, as we have heard, then went on to win the title of Champion of Germany in Bad Homburg in the following year [beating Toupie Lowther 7-5, 7-5 in the final], at the age of 34, and that she was truly a chip off the old block became evident in 1905 when, of late chaperoned, and hardly less successfully so by her brother Ernest Wilmot, she reaped her third championship of Germany at the age of 41. Her last major success dates from 1907 when she won the singles, doubles (with a Mrs Anderson) and mixed doubles (with A.C. Holland) championships of Switzerland and the singles championship of the Engadine.

    “What became of Walter Howard’s ‘silver dish’, the championship trophy which she captured for good after her third win in 1905 [when she beat Frl K. Krug 6-0, 6-1 in the final, retaining the title she had won in 1904 by beating Frl L. Bergmann 6-3 ,6-0 in the final], or, for that matter, prizes such as the ‘Coupe d’Ostende’ which she is known to have captured by means of her ‘rather ungraceful, though extremely clever style’ in 1903, has remained a mystery, although one thing at least is certain: all the prizes she had reaped during her successful career stayed with her. In his will, her father, ‘in consideration of her kindness and never wanting attention’ not only bequeathed to her part of his shares, but in fact gave her ‘the cases in which the prizes won by her are kept’. Elsie’s father died, shortly before his 90th birthday, in 1924, and Elise, unlike her fortunate sister Hilda who, younger than her by twelve years, died in 1916 at the age of 39, was also long-lived. Aged 81, she died in Hove on 10 August 1948, a place she never seems to have abandoned after her family’s return from India. In her will, she left the residue of her estate to her sister-in-law, Florence Emily, the wife of her tennis-playing brother Ernest Wilmot, who at the time lived in Wimbledon of all places. No silverware, witnesses of her tennis triumphs of yore, was mentioned, however, and this may mean that after the Second World War she no longer possessed the cups nor the cases in which these had once been enshrined.”

    Charlotte Cooper, champion in 1899

    Charlotte Cooper, later Mrs Sterry (married 1901), was born on 22 September 1870 in Ealing, Middlesex, England.

    Charlotte Cooper defeated Countess Clara von der Schulenburg 7,5, 6-4 in the final of the German Championships in 1899. Charlotte played in eleven singles finals at Wimbledon, winning the title five times (1895, 1896, 1898, 1901 and 1908) and being runner-up in 1897, 1899, 1900, 1902, 1904 and 1912.

    Charlotte Sterry died at Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire, Scotland, on 10 October 1966 at the age of 96.

    Toupie Lowther, champion in 1901

    The “New York Times” carried the following piece in its “The Past Week in Society” section on 15 May 1898:
    “The Military Gymnasium in the camp at Aldershot [in England] was on a recent afternoon the scene of an amusing fencing exhibition. Col. Jack Napier, who is at the head of the Military Gymnasium, had invited Miss Toupie Lowther – of fencing renown – to come down from London and try her skill with some lady fencers from Aldershot, and the Sergeant Major who instructs the garrison in the same gentle art. The occasion was quite a private one, the only onlookers being the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, who came accompanied by an aide de camp, Col. Napier, several instructors and the combatants themselves. The advantages of style, finish and elaborate technique were never more evident than in the ease with which Miss Toupie Lowther ‘worsted’ all her opponents, to the great enthusiasm of the Duke and Duchess, and Col. Napier.”

    The New Zealand newspaper “The Age” carried the following report on 18 May 1901:

    “At the present moment the leading amateur lady fencer is Miss Toupie Lowther, whose fencing display was such an effective feature in the famous Masque of Peace and War given at Her Majesty’s Theatre in February. Miss Lowther’s enthusiasm for the art is unbounded; in fact, last year she went to Italy for the sole purpose of studying the Italian school of fencing which differs in several important particulars from the French school, wherein the perfection of grace is attained. The Italians use heavier foils, and rely more on mere strength than the French; and as the result of her practice in both schools, Miss Lowther has come to the conclusion that a combination of the French and Italian system would be best for practical fighting purposes.”

    In “Tennis – A Cultural History”, Hans Gillmesiter writes:

    “In Germany, Toupie Lowther had a reputation not only as a tennis player, but as an outstanding fencer and, rather shockingly, boxer as well as a pianist [and composer] who had been awarded prizes at the conservatoires of London, Paris and Berlin.

    “A title page in ‘Sport im Bild’ showed her performing ‘a grand salut’ with an excellent gentleman fencer of the day, and one of Britain’s best, Mr Egerton Castle, and in an explanatory note it was said that the skill with which she handled the foil at a fencing academy in Oxford had met with undivided applause. Her father, it was said, had on her behalf sent a challenge to all (male) amateur fencers of England.

    “Toupie Lowther’s victory [in 1901] was believed to be ‘a foregone conclusion’. Having participated in most of the important tournaments in England during the summer, she had acquired the steadiness for which she, having ‘played for Walter Howard’s cup more regularly than any other player’, had hardly been noted up to his point. Her victories over Miss Matthews of the Edgbaston Cup and Miss Duddell, in the penultimate round and in the final were triumphs ‘of patience and perseverance’, the results being 6-0, 6-0 in both cases. That the unfortunate Miss Duddell should have been punished so severely was, perhaps, pardonable. She had been invited to the tournament committee with a view to looking after the ladies’ matches. This was a novelty and imitation of this emancipatory act in England and elsewhere was recommended, but it must have distracted her from her game.”
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2010
  3. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

    Aug 10, 2009
    Part 3, continuing with Toupie Lowther. This is the final part.

    In its “Round About Europe” section of 23 February 1903, the “New York Times” reported the following:

    “Miss Toupie Lowther, the Englishwoman fencer, is enthusiastically lauded in some of the Paris papers for her recent bout of arms at the Civil Engineers’ Hall in the Rue Blanche. There were assembled professionals, who fenced before a brilliant gathering, including Baron Henri de Rothschild, Count Guillaume de Ballaincourt, Col. Dérué, Admiral Fabre, M. de Pradel, M. de Blest Gana, and many more fencing patrons and experts. Miss Lowther tried the foils with Maître, or Prof. Yvon, and was applauded as she stepped forth in her white plastron, and knickers, her black silk stockings, and patent leather shoes. She is said to have held her own remarkably well against the stern male professional, and she received as a trophy a ‘foil of honour’, ornamented with white ribbons and lilac. One of the French papers states that the ‘famous escrimeuse anglaise’ [English fencer] was graceful, energetic, supple, and went through her work with admirable skill and precision, in what was a genuine ‘assaut d’escrime’, and not a mere show for the gallery.”

    Toupie Lowther was a singles semi-finalist at Wimbledon in 1903 (lost 6-4, 6-2 to Dorothea Douglass); in the same year she contributed a chapter entitled “Ladies’ Play” to R.F. and H.L. Doherty’s book “On Lawn Tennis”.

    In its “Heard at the Clubs” section of 21 February 1904, the “New York Times” reported the following:

    “This week saw a very remarkable entertainment in London. It was a fencing bout at the Ladies’ Army and Navy Club, in which the Duc de Guiche, Lord Kilmorey, Lord Lonsdale and others took part in a grand assault ‘de courtoise’ with Miss Toupie Lowther, the Baroness de Meyer and the Princesse de Polignac. This was followed by another exhibition in the Empress Rooms. Miss Lowther also fenced with some of the men victors in several of the contests.”

    Toupie Lowther reached the singles semi-final at Wimbledon again in 1906 before losing to Charlotte Sterry, 4-6, 8-6, 6-4. Toupie Lowther once motored herself, Blanche and George Hillyard and Dorothea Douglass, later Mrs Lambert Chambers, through Germany, stopping off in places such as Bad Homburg and Baden-Baden so that they could all participate in the local tournament.

    With Irish-born Norah Hackett, Toupie Lowther founded and administrated the Lowther-Hackett ambulance unit, officially attached to the French army during the First World War. The Hackett-Lowther Unit was a private ambulance and canteen service run by the two women and the only female unit at the Front. Toupie Lowther ranked as a sub-lieutenant in the French army and received the Croix de Guerre.

    Mary Roß, champion in 1902

    In “Tennis – A Cultural History”, Hans Gillmesiter writes:

    “Even more so than the men’s championships, the ladies’, by the total absence of any foreigners, was virtually reduced to a local event. It resulted in the triumph of Mary Roß who, after beating the favourite, Frl Hertha Friederichsen, had the better of Hilda Meyer after trailing 5-1 behind in the first set.”

    The final score was 8-6, 6-0.

    Violet Pinckney, champion in 1903

    Violet Millicent Pinckney was born on 11 Mar 1871 in Alderbury, Salisbury, Wiltshire, England. She was the daughter of William Pinckney (b. 1834), a Major in the 1st Wiltshire Rifle Volunteers at Wiltshire, England, and later a banker, and Frances Charlotte, née Everett (b. 1836). Violet had five siblings (George, b. 1863; Herbert, b. 1864; Frances, b. 1866; William Percy, b. 1868; and Elsie, born 1872). One of Violet’s brothers, William Percy, also played tennis competitively, though with less success than his sister.

    Violet defeated Hilda Meyer of Germany 6-2, 6-1 in the ladies’ singles final of the 1903 German Championships in Hamburg. Violet’s best showings in the singles at Wimbledon were in 1906, when she reached the quarter-final before losing to Charlotte Sterry by a score of 6-4, 6-2, and in 1908, when she again reached the quarter-final where she lost to Dora Boothby, 6-1, 6-4.

    Violet Pinckney died in New Forest, England, in 1950.
  4. krosero

    krosero Legend

    Dec 3, 2006
    Didn't have anything to add to this, just wanted to register myself for notifications on new replies.
  5. liesl

    liesl New User

    Sep 16, 2009
    Nice research!

    Tennis A Cultural History, by Heiner Gillmeister is a wonderful source of information on the history of the game of tennis. Of course, it still leaves many questions unanswered, perhaps it was too ambitious an undertaking - but still, I think in tennis literature there is nothing like it.

    From this group of players the British ladies Blanche Hillyard (former Miss Bingley), Charlotte Cooper (later Mrs Sterry), Elsie Lane, Toupie Lowther, Muriel Robb, Violet Pinckney, as well as Countess von Schulenburg of Germany are quite well-known and often mentioned in tennis writings of the day.

    They also were not shy to take a pen to hand themselves.

    Lawn Tennis at Home & Abroad, edited by Wallis Myers (London: George Newnes Ltd, 1903) has some very interesting contributions by several authorities/players on the game, with Mrs Sterry writing a little on Ladies' Play. In Chapter 5 Wallis Myers reviews the players of the day; Lady Players from pag 166 onwards:

    Lawn Tennis for Ladies, by Dorothea Chambers (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1910), contains some "Personal Reminiscences" and a "Most Memorable Match by Leading Players" (Blanche Hillyard, Violet Pinckney, Ethel Larcombe, and others):

    Toupie Lowther must have been a fabulous lady, a real multi-discipline super-talent.
    She wrote a chapter for the Dohertys R.F. & H.L. Doherty on Lawn Tennis (London: Lawn Tennis Office, 1903). Pages 132-140:

    I also have a copy of an article which she wrote for The Badminton Magazine in 1903 entiteled Masters of their Art.

    George Hillyard, in Forty Years of First-Class Lawn Tennis, (London: Williams & Norgate, 1924) evidently thought very highly of her:

    "The name I have omitted is that of Miss T. Lowther. Here is the extraordinary case of a player whose potentialities were greater than those of any other British lady who ever walked on to a court, but who, unfortunately, was saddled with a temperament which was so hopelessly unsuitable to lawn tennis that it reduced her play, at all events in public, not one, but at least two classes, below what her form should have been! She is the only lady I have ever seen, not even excepting Mile Lenglen, who really had a man's strokes and a man's strength. In fact, all her shots were made exactly like those of a first-class player of the opposite sex, and, omitting a few exceptional hard hitters, with just as much power behind them. Such sound judges of lawn tennis as Dr Eaves, the Dohertys, and G. C. Ball-Greene, considered Miss Lowther to be the finest stroke player of any lady; ... It is no flight of imagination to say that had Miss Lowther been blessed with the temperament of a Mrs Sterry or a Mrs Lambert Chambers, she might have been as fine a player as Mile Lenglen herself."

    He also adds a contribution by Toupie herself, in which she recounts a match against Mrs Hillyard in Homburg:

    "The shock to my nervous system was very severe when told I had to play Mrs Hillyard— Mrs Hillyard the innumerable times Champion ! So much so, that when I walked on to the court at the Homburg Tournament, and began the match, the balls seemed to have shrunk to the size of marbles, the net to have stretched in height like Alice in Wonderland, and my accuracy departed to such an extent that I wondered whether I had been born cross-eyed. Mrs Hillyard, whom I had not the pleasure of knowing at that time, on the contrary, seemed imbued with a demon-like agility, and placed that wretched little ball wherever she liked, and invariably where I was not, until, panting and distressed in body and mind, discouraged and despairing, I swore to myself (it seemed that swearing was the only faculty left me) that never would I play in a tournament again.
    She won the first set with great ease ; and when we crossed over, after 6—I had been called against me in sepulchral tones by the most melancholy umpire I ever saw, she let fly at me with, ' Why on earth don't you try ? Of course, I cannot give you these odds (she was owing me ½ 30), if only you will play up. It is perfectly sickening playing someone who doesn't try. Don't be such a d———d fool! Stick to it, and you'll win.' The effect of this encouragement by a total stranger, and still more the somewhat drastic and peculiar method of giving it, was magical. I felt so ' bucked,'as the schoolboys say, that my nervousness left me entirely, and I won the match !"

    Of Miss Robb, George Hillyard had the following to say, after calling her S. H. Smith of the fair sex (how extraordinary!) :
    " She had the hardest drive of any lady player before or since. This stroke, however, was not made exactly in the same manner as that of the famous Stroud expert, as it had no perceptible top-spin. It more nearly resembled—indeed, very closely resembled A. W. Gore's horizontal sweep. A very tall and powerful girl, the pace she got on the ball was astonishing; indeed, few men have had a harder drive. Fortunately for her opponents, she was a player who decidedly had her days. 'When she was good, she was very, very good, etc.' This, of course, was almost bound to be the case with a ball hit so hard without 'top.' The accuracy required to keep it in court was too great for fallible human beings, except at the very zenith of their form. "
  6. newmark401

    newmark401 Professional

    Aug 10, 2009
    Thanks for the great quotes and links. They are a big help.


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