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Archive for the ‘Female Athletes’ Category

MAY SUTTON BUNDY (1887 – 1975) First American to Win Wimbledon

In Female Athletes, Feminists, People from England, Sports, women on October 14, 2013 at 10:42 AM

When May Sutton was born in Plymouth, England she was already above average, weighing in at fifteen pounds. Her father,

May Sutton Bundy

May Sutton Bundy

Adolphus DeGrouchy Sutton, was a retired British navy captain, and he named his daughter, the youngest of seven, May, after his own yacht.

When Bundy was six, the Suttons transplanted themselves to Pasadena, California where they had a ten-acre orange grove. Bundy and her siblings, with the help of their neighbors, built their own tennis court by hauling clay from a local canyon. The court had a little slope, which required running uphill to make some shots.

It wasn’t common at that time to take tennis lessons, so the Sutton children learned to play on their own in England. Bundy used her older sister’s warped wood racquet for tennis, cricket and croquet. The Sutton sisters dressed in typical tennis attire, which included a pair of bloomers, two petticoats, a long undershirt, a white shirt, long white silk stockings, and a floppy hat.

A WINNING FORMULA         Bundy won her first tournament when she was twelve, beating her older sister Ethel. A year later she won the Pacific Southwest title for the first time against a 22 year old, and then went on to win it eight more times.

Because of Bundy’s size, what she lacked in speed and power she more than made up for with her strong forehand, accuracy and relentlessness.  As her sister Florence described her, “May’s strength as a tennis player lies principally in her unrelenting persistency. She never lets anybody beat her and discourages her opponent by always getting the ball back, no matter where you put it.”1

In 1904, at 17 years old, Bundy proved that her previous wins were more than just luck. She won the United States women’s title as the youngest women’s champion to date. The prize was a gold watch with a chain covered in topaz stones. Bundy held that record as long as she was alive, until Tracy Austin beat it in 1979 at 16 years and nine months old. The subsequent years add many more titles to her resume.

BEATING THE BRITISH        The year after her record-setting win in America, Bundy crossed the pond to play in Wimbledon, the first American to compete in the historic tournament.  She wore the requisite white skirt with stockings and hard-soled shoes topped by a long-sleeved white blouse. For the occasion she had a large bow in her hair. She was not a dainty lady, weighing a muscular 160 pounds.

May Sutton playing at Wimbledon

May Sutton playing at Wimbledon

If the British had any resentment over an American participating in the      tournament, she did nothing but make matters worse. First, her skirt was short enough to expose her ankles. Second, she shocked all in attendance by rolling up her sleeves to her elbows during play. Third, she had the unmitigated gall to win the women’s championship, beating England’s beloved Dorothea Chambers. One newspaper reported that Bundy’s win was so upsetting that the future King George V cried in the royal box. The following year Bundy lost to Chambers, but in 1907, Bundy regained the championship title.

In 1908, Bundy was recognized for her talent and appreciated for her victories in England in a singular way. She was selected to be the Queen of the Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena, and she was the first sports celebrity to receive that honor. She carried a pink parasol as she rode along the parade route, accompanied by her sister Florence as one of the princesses.

A LOVE MATCH        Bundy often said she would not marry a man who could not beat her in tennis. Thomas Clark Bundy, a multiple national doubles and singles champion, proved to be suitable, and Bundy was 25 when they married. Mr. Bundy’s focus had shifted from sports to real estate, and he was responsible for developing 2000 acres in the San Fernando Valley and La Brea – Wilshire area. Bundy Drive is named after him.

The Bundys had four children, but being a wife and mother didn’t distract Bundy from tennis. A few months after the birth of her second child, she won a Long Beach charity event after being down one set against a much younger opponent who was the national champion. Later that year, Bundy won the Southern California title for the eighth time.

In 1920, Thomas Bundy paid $1,000 for five and a half acres to develop the Los Angeles Tennis Club. Bundy taught lessons at the club and often played against celebrities such as Marlene Dietrich, Jean Harlow, Charlie Chaplin and Clark Gable. The Bundys also had a private tennis court at their home in Santa Monica, California, the first court ever to be painted green.

Bundy turned pro in 1930 at age 42. Eight years later she was named one of America’s most influential feminists along with actress Norma Shearer and pilot Amelia Earhart. While her professional life was thriving, there was chaos in her private life. After a long separation, the Bundys divorced in 1940.

AGE IS JUST A NUMBER        Bundy never stopped playing tennis. In 1968 she played doubles with her daughter, Dorothy Cheney, who was the first American woman to win the Australian Championships. Bundy was 80 years old, and her daughter was 51. Both ladies wore stylish white, floppy hats on the court.

In what was dubbed as the “Age vs. Youth” tournament in 1973, Bundy faced opponents who were about half her age, and she dominated them to be called the “most durable athlete of the century.” Two years later, at age 88, Bundy played, and won, her last match, a few months before her death.

In describing her own success, she said, “Of course I play to win. That is the only way one can improve and draw the other party out to their best game. … I think that one half of ability to play tennis is confidence bordering on recklessness, and the other half is accuracy. Speed has far less to do with the game than accuracy in placing, for it is in the latter that the higher-class game is won or lost. A few good strokes will meet all emergencies of the game and make one just as hard to beat as if he had fancy pick-ups and foxy cuts.”1   Bundy was given the ultimate recognition for her achievement by being inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association Hall of Fame.

QUESTION: What are your best qualities that help you succeed?

© 2013 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

 SOURCES:

1 http://www.cemeteryguide.com/gotw-sutton.html

http://articles.latimes.com/1999/mar/28/local/me-21844

http://www.tennisforum.com/showthread.php?t=123825

http://www.tennisforum.com/showthread.php?t=430341

http://www.tennisfame.com/hall-of-famers/may-sutton-bundy

 http://www.wimbledon.com/en_GB/scores/draws/archive/players/c6e623f7-9edf-4070-bc6f-9ed41d355a74/index.html

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=l91QAAAAIBAJ&sjid=SF8DAAAAIBAJ&dq=may%20sutton%20tennis&pg=7261%2C5660408

 

Photo credits:

http://www.cemeteryguide.com/gotw-sutton.html

 

 

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KATIE SANDWINA (1884 – 1952) Circus Strongwoman

In American History, Biography, Circus Performers, Female Athletes, Feminists, Vaudeville Acts, women on December 14, 2010 at 10:20 PM

Katie Sandwina

Catherine Brumbach (“Katie”) was born with everything she needed to succeed in life, and she grew to be a beautiful, strong woman, a really strong woman.  Her physical strength and beauty gave her an edge in a man’s world, making her the specimen of perfection. 

Brumbach was the second oldest of 15 children whose parents were circus performers.  Of Bavarian stock, Philippe, who was six feet six inches tall and weighed about 260 pounds with a 56 inch chest, and his wife, Johanna, whose biceps measured 15 inches, amazed European audiences with their feats of strength.  Three daughters inherited the strength and talent of their parents and joined the act very young. 

When she was two, Brumbach reportedly did hand stands on her father’s hands.  She was trained in gymnastics and then added weightlifting to her regime when she hit adolescence.  Brumbach wasn’t the strongest of her siblings, but her strength combined with her perfect proportions and natural beauty made her the main attraction.

JOINING THE FAMILY BUSINESS                      The Brumbach family were contract players in circuses all over Europe, and Brumbach’s star continued to rise.  When she was a teenager, her father offered 100 German marks to any man who would come on stage and beat her at wrestling.  She won every time, and one evening she got a prize she hadn’t expected.  Max Heymann, a five foot six inch acrobat who weighed about 160 pounds, was having a hard time getting his career off the ground.  He saw an opportunity for easy cash and sauntered confidently onto the stage.  Brumbach won the match handily, but he won her heart.  She was 16 and Heymann was 19, and two years later he joined the act permanently when they married.

While touring around Europe, the strongwoman and her fellow performers happened to briefly go to New York.  As a publicity stunt at the end of the act, she challenged anyone who dared to try to lift more weight than she did.  Eugen Sandow, the most famous bodybuilder of the time (click here for the profile of Eugen Sandow) happened to be in the audience.  No publicity manager could have ever conceived of a more perfect attraction.  They matched each other pound for pound until Brumbach lifted a 300 pound bar bell over her head.  As a stunned audience witnessed, Sandow could only raise it to his chest.  Brumbach proudly carried her victory with her everywhere by adopting the moniker “Sandwina,” a female derivative of Sandow.

JUST ANOTHER DAY AT THE OFFICE              Sandwina and Heymann and a couple of other men became “The Sandwinas.”  Early in the 20th century they came to America for a more extended commitment and performed with small vaudeville shows up and down the East coast.  A year later they were hired by the prestigious Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit and toured throughout the country.  Sandwina was billed as “Europe’s Queen of Strength and Beauty.”  She twisted iron bars into spirals and broke chains with her bare hands, juggled cannonballs and supported a 1,200-pound cannon on her shoulders.  She even lay on a bed of nails while volunteers used sledgehammers to hit an anvil balanced on her chest.

In 1909 while on tour with the Orpheum, the Heymanns had a baby, Teddy.  Being pregnant made Sandwina seem more feminine to some people, but she didn’t let it interfere with her career.  She performed two shows the night before her son was born.  This strapping child, who weighed 50 pounds at age two, was nicknamed “Superbaby” by the press.  During interviews, reporters asked Sandwina’s advice on the care and feeding of children so other kids could grow up to be equally robust and strong.

The Sandwinas went back to Europe for a while.  Holding her husband overhead had become a popular feat, and to add to that, for the finale Sandwina lifted three men.  John Ringling, one of the brothers who had recently bought the Barnum & Bailey circus, was on a scouting trip.  He signed Sandwina and Heymann and brought them back to the States in 1911.  They weren’t a featured act but instead had to perform simultaneously with four other strength acts, all competing for attention.  When reporters became curious about Sandwina, a press conference was arranged to move her into the spotlight.

THE PICTURE OF PERFECTION                          P.T. Barnum was once quoted as saying, “Without promotion something terrible happens…Nothing!”1 so meeting the press became an event.  At Madison Square Garden, where they were performing, over a dozen doctors were brought in to weigh and measure Sandwina publicly.  She was deemed to be the perfect female specimen.  She was five feet nine and three quarters inches tall and weighed 210 pounds.  Her chest was 44 inches, her waist was 29 inches, and her hips were 43 inches.  Her calf measured 16 inches and her flexed right bicep was 14 inches.  To enhance her appearance, especially in contrast to her husband, Sandwina always wore two-inch heels and piled her hair on top of her head to make her look taller.  When the measuring was finished Sandwina demonstrated her strength for the reporters.  First she lifted Heymann over her head with one hand, and then she lifted her husband and son, holding them both with only one arm.

For all her bulk, Sandwina was described as beautiful and feminine with supple curves and arms smooth enough to look good in a ball gown.  With her new status in the center ring, Sandwina was earning up to $1,500 a week.  Sandwina represented the perfect woman in many ways.  Besides her physical beauty, strength and charm, she was a working mother.  In 1912 she became the Vice President of the suffrage group at the Barnum & Bailey Circus.  Working with her husband and dominating him in the act made her seem all the more liberated.

In 1918 while the Heymann family was in Istanbul, a second son, Alfred, was born.  The story has been passed down that it happened during some civil unrest and Sandwina had to crawl under barbed wire to get herself to a hospital.  When she arrived, the hospital was full and she gave birth on the floor.

When The Sandwinas retired from the Barnum & Bailey Circus they continued to do what they loved.  For a while in the 1930s they worked with the WPA circus, and then in the 1940s they opened a cafe/bar in Queens, New York.  Occasionally when a customer asked, Sandwina would bend an iron bar or break a horseshoe after serving their drink.

In 1952 Sandwina died of cancer, and after 52 years of marriage, The Sandwinas split up.

QUESTION:  If you could join the circus, what kind of act would you want to do?

 ©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

 Sources:

http://www.starkcenter.org/research/igh/articles/igh10.1.4.pdf

http://thehumanmarvels.com/?p=878

http://www.starkcenter.org/research/igh/articles/igh9.2.4.pdf

http://www.aafla.org/SportsLibrary/IGH/IGH0106/IGH0106d.pdf

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1067134/index.htm

1http://thinkexist.com/quotes/p.t._barnum/

JOAN WESTON (1935 – 1997) Roller Derby Queen

In 1960s, Biography, Female Athletes, People, Roller Derby, Roller Skating, Sports, women on June 1, 2010 at 10:39 AM

Joan Weston

In 1935 Joan Weston and Roller Derby were both born.  When they finally met, it was a match made in heaven.

Weston’s parents divorced when she was a baby, and she was raised by her maternal grandparents.  They worked six days a week at the restaurant and gas station they owned in Southern California.  Despite their preoccupation with earning a living, they created a strict but loving environment. 

Weston idolized her father who had movie star good looks, and she fondly remembers a summer spent with him before he was killed in a car accident.  Not knowing how to channel her grief, she blamed her mother for her parents’ divorce.  This compounded the emotional distance between them. 

Even though they weren’t Catholics, her grandfather insisted on a Mount St. Mary’s College education. Her grandmother was amenable to that until Weston decided she wanted to become a nun.  Weston then appeased her by directing all her energy into sports.  A natural athlete, Weston excelled in every sport she tried, but that didn’t mean her grandmother would let her try anything.  She balked when Weston wanted to take up trick horseback riding as being too dangerous.  Softball seemed like a good compromise, and Weston played school and league ball.  This proved to be a good match, and in one college game Weston hit eight home runs. 

Upon graduation, there weren’t many options for female athletes.  When Weston watched the Roller Derby she saw her future, and she couldn’t wait to take her skating from the sidewalk to the indoor banked track.  Her five feet ten inch, 150 pound frame and bleached blonde hair were the perfect body and image.  She moved to northern California to learn the sport and join a team. 

Weston’s sheltered upbringing hadn’t prepared her for the unrefined behavior and profanity of the skaters.  She felt so intimidated and out of place that she almost quit.  Knowing that her mother, a truck stop waitress, would understand that life a lot better, Weston called her for encouragement.  Her mother’s advice was that Roller Derby people were no different than anybody else. “People and sex are like franks and beans,” she said. “They go together.”1

It wasn’t the Roller Derby people or the lifestyle that attracted Weston.  She simply loved to skate, and skating at 30 miles an hour gave her a sense of freedom.  At the beginning she had to overcome some clumsiness, however.  In her first outing she tripped and fell in front of nine skaters, all of whom fell over her. 

After playing on various teams for several years, Weston gained her Roller Derby Queen reputation on the San Francisco Bay Bombers.  She started wearing the orange and black in 1963 when she was 28 years old.  Her fans called her the Blonde Bomber, Blonde Amazon and Golden Girl.  

Skating was so much her life that she skated full time (over 250 games each year) for 18 years and part time for another 24 years.  She played the Pivot position which gave her an opportunity to play defense and offense as necessary. Even though the Roller Derby was not a mainstream sport, Weston was the highest paid female athlete in the 1960s.  She earned less than her male counterparts, however, by nearly $20,000.

Derby teams toured the country to compete at local arenas, traveling by Greyhound bus or car.  One year Weston put 60,000 miles on her car.  The players stayed in Holiday Inns that dotted the trail.  Each night her best friend was waiting in the room for Weston to return.  Malia, a spotted mutt who was born in a box on a Greyhound bus, knew when Weston should be arriving and was peering out the window when her car pulled into the parking lot. 

It wasn’t easy to maintain romantic relationships while on the road.  When she was 20 she got engaged to another skater who was drop dead handsome.  The Roller Derby publicity department milked the relationship for all it was worth, but after 18 months it ended.  There were two other engagements that ended badly.  One suitor insisted Weston stop skating, but she sacrificed the relationship instead of her career.  With so much heart break, when she was 37 years old, Weston declared she would never marry.   

In 1965 the Roller Derby management promoted her to captain of the acclaimed Bay Bombers supplanting Annis (Big Red) Jensen.  On tour, Weston wore the white shirt of the home team. 

About that time a rivalry blossomed between Weston and Ann Calvello, another super star skater who wrote the red shirt of the rival teams. Weston vs. Calvello became the biggest rivalry in the history of the sport, and it was personal.  Games turned into good vs. evil slug fests, and Calvello never missed an opportunity to provoke and punish Weston’s teammates with illegal kicks and punches.  This fueled Weston to seek revenge.  Calvello’s cheap shots incensed audiences who would throw things at her and occasionally even damage her car.  Each skater played her part to perfection, but in the end, the audience demanded that good triumph over evil.  Even though Weston was the predictable victor, audiences packed the arenas the next night to see what would happen.

Injuries are a fact of life in Roller Derby, and Weston, like all players, suffered her share of debilitating ones.  In an interview she recounted knee cartilage surgery and a dislocated collar bone. Trips to the dentist were frequent as dentures replaced missing teeth.  In one game she got into such a heated argument with the referee that two of her teeth flew out of her mouth right past the ref’s ear.

Because of the violence, Weston’s mom could never accept her daughter’s career choice, or even watch a Roller Derby game.  Her grandmother had the courage to watch only one.  The star athlete found her support within the ranks of the sport.  Eventually she married skater Nick Scopas, and their relationship lasted until death parted them. 

If they weren’t proud of her job, Weston’s family could be proud of what she accomplished.  The Blond Bomber was voted Roller Derby Queen four times, received the Most Valuable Player award in 1968 and was inducted into the National Roller Derby Hall of Fame.   

In the 1970s a skaters’ strike, the gas crisis and increasing costs made managing the Roller Derby too expensive for Jerry Seltzer, son of founder Leo Seltzer. The original Roller Derby league skated their last game on December 3, 1973.  Seltzer sold everything Roller Derby to other promoters. 

Weston and Roller Derby started life and ended together.  She was 38 years old and her body didn’t bounce back from injuries as quickly, so this was the perfect time to retire.  It was not the end of skating for Weston, however.  She channeled her experience and expertise into training young skaters and staging exhibition games. 

Weston’s life wasn’t all skating all the time.  She loved Hawaii and won the 1962 outrigger championship on a canoe called Malia, the name sake for her dog.  Her love of softball exceeded her tenure skating and she played in leagues in northern California.

Weston contracted Creutzfeldt – Jakob disease, a rare degenerative brain disorder.  She died at age 62 in Hayward, California, survived by her husband.  Twenty-five years earlier she was asked if she had any regrets.  She said she did, but that there was one thing that compensated: stardom.  “Stardom is recognition, approval, power. Do you know what it’s like to be able to bring 20,000 people to their feet–to make them hate or love you? That’s where it’s at. Power!”2

QUESTION:  Who are your sports idols?  What is it about what they do that you respect?

 ©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

 Video:

Weston’s last interview:   http://rollergames.ning.com/video/joan-westons-last-sit-down

Interviews with Ann Calvello & Joan Weston: http://myspace.vtap.com/video/Ann+Calvello%252C+Joan+Weston%253A+Is+Roller+Derby+Real/CL0125573612_477e96dc8_V0lLSTQ4NDI1OTZ-aW46MX5xOmJyfmJ3OldJS0k0ODQyNTk2

 Sources:

1, 2http://astroworf.tripod.com/fw1.html

http://www.nytimes.com/1997/05/18/us/joanie-weston-62-a-big-star-in-the-world-of-roller-derbies.html

http://derbymemoirs.bankedtrack.info/mem_Weston_Joan.html

http://rollergames.ning.com/video/joan-westons-last-sit-down

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Weston

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/frank_deford/05/19/roller.derby.revival/index.html

http://articles.sfgate.com/2006-03-16/bay-area/17285386_1_roller-skated-san-francisco-bay-bombers/2

http://baycitybombers.com/Stories/calvello.html

http://www.ktvu.com/station/1854287/detail.html

http://www.rollerderbyhalloffame.com/id5.html

http://www.rollerderbyhalloffame.com/id3.html