Pages

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

WOODIN | The Tennis Gold Cup (Postscript Mar 26, 2017)

Treasury Secretary William H. Woodin presents
Maidstone's Tennis Gold Cup to Ladies Singles
winner Betty Nuthall of UK in 1933. This was the 
last time he presented the Woodin Cup; he 
died in May 1934.
October 28, 2016–The Woodin Gold Cup Invitational Tournament for women tennis players was initiated 90 years ago at the Maidstone Club. Its story, from 1926 to 1955, provides insights into the history of the sport.

William H. Woodin was himself not a tennis player. He was approached to put his name on and finance the cup because he was a renowned U.S. business leader and a philanthropist who served on the Board of Franklin Roosevelt's Warm Springs Foundation.

Woodin headed ACF, the country's largest supplier of railway cars and one of the 20 companies in the contemporary Dow Jones Industrial Average. (He also chaired another of the 20 companies in the Dow–American Locomotive Co., or Alco.)

Woodin was asked by his friend and fellow Maidstone Club member Julian S. Myrick to contribute the cups for the proposed invitational. 

Woodin’s generous response was to donate three cups made of solid gold, one for the singles winner and the other two for the doubles winners.  The value of each of the three cups was estimated at $2,000, equal to $30,000 today, adjusted for inflation. The winner took the cup home for a year and after three wins was allowed to keep it.

The Woodin cups were unique in tennis because they were for women and there were fewer tournaments for female players. For nearly 30 years, the greatest names in women’s tennis came to play on Maidstone’s courts to compete for the cups. The tournament played an important role in providing a platform for competition among a generation of women tennis players frozen out of professional tennis during the 1930s.

Woodin's generosity (begun by his contributing $1,800 to refurbish the tennis building) may have prompted his election as President of the Maidstone Club, even though he also headed, as Commodore, the other main social club in East Hampton, the Devon Yacht Club and had done so since 1922.

After Will Woodin died in 1934, his widow Nan Woodin continued to host the Gold Cup. In 1939 the competition ran from July 31 to Aug. 6. Nan Woodin hosted a dinner for the contestants on Aug. 2. The East Hampton Star had a small story on p. 1 of its issue of July 27, 1939 noting that the contestants would include Helen Jacobs, Alice Marble, Susan Palfrey Fabian and Dorothy Bundy. That year Alice Marble won the singles cup and she and Susan Palfrey Fabyan won the doubles cup. Nan Woodin died in 1941, and her daughter Mary Miner took over presenting the cups at first, and later the Woodin grandchildren Charlie Miner Jr. and Anne Harvey Gerli.

The Grand Slam Tennis Tournaments 


The Woodin Cups supported female players in the runup to one of the four major world Grand Slam ("Major") open tennis tournaments, i.e.,
the U.S. National Championships that began on grass in 1881 at Newport, R.I. 

Woodin Cup winners who went on to become Grand Slam champions included Alice Marble, Helen [Hull] Jacobs, Molla Mallory and Helen Wills [Moody].  Helen Jacobs and Helen Wills were fierce opponents whose games were called "the battle of the Helens".

The U.S. National Championships event was supported by the U.S. National Lawn Tennis Association (USNLTA, founded in 1881, shortened to USLTA in 1920), which codified the rules of tennis such as the regulation size of the court. The USNLTA encouraged the spread of grass-court tennis in the late 19th century and early 20th to estates and clubs all over Long Island. The USNLTA Players' Committee, which included Davis Cup founder Dwight Davis,   lobbied to bring the nationals from Newport to Long Island. The Players' Committee noted in 1915 that 58 of the 100 top-ranked American players, half of the 260 USNLTA member clubs and 25,000 tennis players were located in the NYC metro area. They persuaded the USLTA to move America's Grand Slam event from Newport to 12 acres at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills.

The U.S. Championships were renamed the U.S. Open in 1968, and in 1975  switched from grass to green clay;; that year the USLTA was shortened to USTA. The Open moved to hard courts in 1978 at Flushing Meadows in a model agreement with the City of New York, requiring minimal public support, that was one of Mayor David Dinkins' great achievements. The other three Grand Slam tournaments are:

  • The Wimbledon tournament, the grandfather of tennis tournaments, which started in 1877 on grass courts and today is the only one of the Grand Slam sites where tennis is still played on grass.
  • The French Open, which began as a French-only tournament and was first opened to all nationalities in 1925. It was begun on red clay courts in Paris, and after some years of experimentation has stayed with it.
  • The Australian Open, which rotated in 1905-1988 among several grass sites and then settled on hard courts in Melbourne Park, after which it gained equal status with the other three Grand Slam tournaments.
L to R: Nan Woodin, center, awards the
Gold Cup to Sarah Palfrey, as Alice
Marble looks on. 
The Woodin Cup's Contribution to  the Eastern Grass Circuit

Originally a leisure sport played informally on weekends at grass courts on East End "cottages," tennis was changed by the emergence of 
professional tennis players starting in 1926.

Families with tennis courts started to take the game more seriously and invited tennis pros to provide lessons. 

John Nogrady was one of the early famous pro players who came to prominence in the 1940s. He was the resident pro at the homes of the Phipps and Martin families in Old Westbury and at the Fairchild home in Lloyd Neck. He worked with leading tennis women players like Louise Brough, Margaret Osborne, Gussie Moran, and Grace Kelly, many of who played in the Maidstone tournament (see list below). Nogrady died in 2007 at 93.

Maidstone hosted practice sessions and invitational warm-ups for the season-ending U.S. Championships at West Side, along with Piping Rock in Locust Valley and the Rockaway Hunting Club.

Invitationals for men started at the Meadow Club of Southampton and the Nassau Country Club in Glen Cove. They became part of the famous eastern grass circuit, which started in Baltimore, traveled north to Philadelphia, New Jersey, up to Boston and back to West Side. 

Will Woodin's Gold Cup Invitational offered a trophy for women of equivalent status to that of the men, at a time when women were being eased out of the pro circuit. The Woodin Cup nurtured the emergence of several important women players, including at the four previously mentioned Grand Slam winners. 

Two female tennis players got a big boost from the Woodin Cup–Carolin Babcock and Sarah Palfrey. One woman, noted at the end of this story, did not win or even play for the Woodin Cup, but the controversy around her play may have helped her career as well as contributing to the end of the Woodin Cup... but I am getting ahead of my story. 

Carolin Babcock Stark (Woodin Winner, 1934)

A women's amateur tennis star in the 1930’s who died March 25, 1987 at Southampton Hospital, Carolin Babcock Stark won the Woodin Gold Cup in 1934. She went on to win the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association national doubles championship with Marjorie (Midge) Van Ryan in 1936. In 1932 she had been the runner-up in women's singles to Helen Jacobs at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills.  The same year she won the the singles championship, and the following year the doubles at the Seabright (N.J.) Lawn and Cricket Club.  She was married for 10 years to Richard S. Stark and she lived in Malibu, Calif. from the mid-1940's to 1980, when she moved to North Haven, Southampton Town, until her death.

Sarah Palfrey (Woodin Winner, 1932, 1935, 1939...)


The Woodin Cup gave a similar boost to Sarah Palfrey. She twice won the singles title at the U.S. Championships, the second time in 1945 at 32. She was the second mother to have won the title, Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman being the first. Palfrey won 16 Grand Slam championships in women's doubles and mixed doubles. She teamed with Betty Nuthall Shoemaker to win the 1930 U.S. Championships and with Helen Jacobs to win the 1932, 1934, and 1935 championships. Palfrey and Alice Marble won the U.S. Championships 1937–40. At Wimbledon, Palfrey and Marble won the 1938 and 1939 women's doubles championship. Palfrey's final U.S. women's doubles championship was in 1941 with Margaret Osborne duPont.  Palfrey and Marble were undefeated in doubles for four years (1937-40). In 1947, Palfrey turned professional and went on a tour of one-night stands with Betz Addie, who lost her amateur status because the USLTA charged her with inquiring about the possibility of creating a tour for professionals. 

Nan Woodin (with feathered hat) presents the Woodin Gold
Cups in 1939 to Alice Marble (Doubles and Singles Winner).
Sarah Palfrey Fabyan (Doubles Winner) is not in photo.
Helen Jacobs, in photo, won in 1932. Marble and Jacobs were
both Grand Slam winners. EH Star photo, published 1944.
Palfrey reached a career high of World No. 4 in 1934 and  was included in the year-end Top Ten rankings issued by the USLTA, in 1929-31, 1933-41, and 1945. She was the top-ranked U.S. player in 1941 and 1945. Palfrey was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1963. In mixed doubles, Palfrey teamed with four different partners to win the U.S. Championships. Palfrey also won the mixed doubles title at the 1939 French Championships, teaming with her future husband Elwood Cooke.

She was married three times–to Marshal Fabyan, Elwood Cooke (one daughter) and Jerome Alan Danzig (one son). She died of lung cancer in 1996. 

Her brother, atomic-energy expert and skilled tennis player John Palfrey,  married Belle "Clochette" Roosevelt, one of five granddaughters of Teddy Roosevelt, all of whom excelled at tennis.

Winners of the Woodin Gold Cup, 1926-1955

The Gold Cup could be kept if a player won it three times. According to Will Woodin's descendants, at least one early winner refused to accept the Cup, in order to allow the competition to continue. Winners of the Woodin Gold Cups invitational were as follows:

Ladies Singles:
1926 Helen Wills (Grand Slam winner)
1927 Molla Mallory (Grand Slam winner)
1928 Helen Wills
1929 D.C. Shepherd-Barron
1930 Marjorie Morrill
1931 Madge Gladman Van Run
1932 Helen Jacobs (Grand Slam winner)
1933 Betty Nuthall
1934 Dorothy Andrus
1935 Ethel B. Arnold
1936 Gracyn Wheeler
1937 J. Jedrzejoyski
1938 Barbara Winslow
1939 Alice Marble (Grand Slam winner)
1940 Dorothy Bundy
1941 Pauline Betz
1942 A. Louise Brough
1943-44 No Tournament
1945 Sarah P. Cooke
1946 Shirley Fry
1947 Shirley Fry
1948 A. Louise Brough
1949 A. Louise Brough (third time)
1950 Beverly Baker
1951 Patricia Todd
1952 Shirley Fry (third time)
1953 Angela Mortimer
1954 A. Louise Brough
1955 Darlene Hard (Barbara Breit was runner-up)

Ladies Doubles
1926 Molla Mallory and Mary Brown
1927 Helen Wills and Eleanor Goss
1928 Helen Wills and Penelope Anderson
1929 Helen Wills (third time) and Edith Cross
1930 Madge Gladman and Josephine Cruikshank
1931 Betty Nuthall and Phylis Mudford
1932 Helen Jacobs and Sarah Palfrey 
1933 Elizabeth Ryan and Peggy Scriven
1934 Carolin Babcock and Dorothy B. Andrus
1935 Marjorie Van Ryn and Sarah Palfrey Fabyan 
1936 Dorothy B. Andrus and Sylvie Henrotin
1937 Dorothy B. Andrus (third time) and Sylvie Henrotin
1938 Dorothy Bundy and Dorothy Workman  
1939 Alice Marble and Sarah Palfrey Fabyan (third time) 
1940 Dorothy Bundy and Marjorie Van Ryn
1941 Sarah Cooke and Margaret Osborne
1942 A. Louise Brough and Margaret Osborne 
1943-44 No Tournament
1945 Barbara Krase and Patricia C. Todd
1946 Shirley Fry and Barbara Krase
1947 Shirley Fry and Barbara Krase (third time)
1948 A. Louise Brough and Margaret D. duPont
1949 A. Louise Brough and Margaret D. duPont
1950 Shirley Fry (third time) and Patricia Todd
1951 Patricia Todd (third time) and Betty Rosenquest
1952 Doris Hart and Shirley Fry
1953 Maureen Connolly and Julia Sampson
1954 Helen Fletcher and Ann Shilcock
1955 Patricia Ward and Shirley Bloomer

Last Two Years of the Cup–The Althea Gibson Story

Tennis champ Althea Gibson of Harlem got a boost from the Woodin Cup, but not by winning it or even playing in the tournament. She was not invited to compete for the Woodin Cup in 1954 because she was black, which may seem astonishing in 2016 when the United States has a black president and the Williams sisters have been winning tournaments for years. On the other hand, it has been noted that:
  • Several Maidstone members publicly supported her participation,
  • She was invited to stay at the homes of several members and 
  • Prior Woodin Cup winners Palfrey and Marble and others lobbied the USLTA to remove the color bar and allow Gibson to play at heretofore whites-only tournaments beginning in 1950.  "She [Palfrey] … got Althea into the U.S. Championships in 1950," said Gladys Heldman, founder of the Women's Professional Tennis Tour. 
  • Gibson went on to play in the Philadelphia portion of the tennis circuit and won at Wimbledon and in the U.S. Championships in 1957 and 1958. 
Woodin Gold Cup, 1954 (EH Star), with Mary Woodin
Miner presiding in what was the second-to-last
year of the event.
Edward T. (“Ned”) Chase, a long-time Tennis Week senior contributing writer, wrote about this episode. (A 1941 Princeton graduate, Chase served as a Naval lieutenant during World War II. At Tennis Week he was expert at comparing the game's greatest players. He also played tennis well, winning in three straight sets against then-Wimbledon champion Maureen Connolly on Maidstone's grass courts. Chase was survived by his wife of 56 years, Ethelyn Atha Chase, two daughters and two sons, one of them being famed Cornelius Crane “Chevy” Chase. Ned Chase passed away at 86 in New York on June 9, 2005 after a long illness.) 

Chase's conclusion was that the Althea Gibson controversy helped spell the end of the Woodin Gold Cup event. But there were other factors.

Last Two Years of the Woodin Cup–The Rising Cost

The tournament was discontinued during the war years of 1943 and 1944, but resumed in 1945.  Permanent possession of the gold cups was retired in 1949, after 22 years of competition, to Sarah Palfrey and Louise Brough. 

The invitational tournament was continued from 1950 to 1955 by Mary Woodin Miner and other members of the Woodin family who presented new cups of silver to the Club. 

However, the Maidstone Club Tennis Committee informed the Board of Governors that the Invitational had lost some of its purpose and had become too expensive:
  • Originally the tournament had been one of the most important in the country, counting in the national ranking of leading players, but this was no longer the case.
  • It had become difficult to attract top-ranking players to the tournament since the only open date left too little time before the national championship at Forest Hills.  
  • Ranking players felt constrained to play only in ranking tournaments, which had become too expensive an undertaking for Maidstone. 
This version of the story of the end of the cup is not inconsistent with Ned Chase's version.

Postscript: When Anne Harvey Gerli, Will Woodin's sole surviving granddaughter, died in 2016, her family donated a new tennis cup in her name.

Sources: Fifty Years of the Maidstone Club, East Hampton Star (multiple dates), Colleen Kennedy, Tennis Week.  Related Posts:  Maidstone Woodin Cups 1955 . Life of Will Woodin