Saturday, September 29, 2018

THE WOODIN CUPS | Where the Trophies Are Now

Alice Tepper Marlin with the Woodin Singles
Cup. To handle the solid-gold cup, you must
wear cloth gloves. Photos by JT Marlin. Thanks
to the ITHF for permission to photograph.

NEWPORT, R.I., September 29, 2018 – Yesterday, after lunch at Castle Hill, Alice and I visited the International Tennis Hall of Fame with classmates.

We went on a one-hour tour that we arranged for Portsmouth Abbey School alumni attending our 60th reunion.

The tour was ably led by the ITHF docent Liz, who was a fount of information about tennis history. 

The ITHF wisely encourages photos (how else can people learn what a great place it is to visit?), but does not allow use of flash or the taking of videos.

Our docent  Liz, in front of a case
of ancient cans of tennis balls.
By special appointment, after the tour, Alice and I were taken to a secure location where we were shown the Woodin Gold Cups, awarded in 1926-1949 by the Maidstone Club, East Hampton, N.Y., in an annual invitational tournament for women. 

I've been eager to visit the Hall of Fame since 2016, when I first wrote about the Woodin Cups (

These cups were of enormous significance in making a move toward equalizing the women's tennis tournaments to the men's tournaments in the 1920s and 1930s. They were the only solid-gold cups offered as prizes in any tennis tournament, men's or women's. 
L to R: The smaller Woodin Doubles Cup is one of two,
each valued in 1926 at $2,000 ($30,000 today). The
larger Singles Cup may be worth $100,000.

The pineapple-topped Wimbledon gold cups for men, for example, are not solid gold–they are sterling-silver cups with gilding. Women get sterling-silver plates that have some gilding.

In the photo that leads off this post, Alice Tepper Marlin shows the gorgeous gold cup with a portrait of William McChesney Martin in the background. 

It is highly appropriate because when Will Woodin became Secretary of the Treasury in 1933 under FDR, he was also ex officio Chairman of the Federal Reserve System. This was Martin's position (by appointment, not ex officio; the law was changed) when I was an economist at the Fed in Washington in 1964-66. 

Martin became Honorary Chairman of the ITHF. He was married to Cynthia, daughter of Dwight Davis, founder of the Davis Cup, which was the first major international tennis cup.
Childe Hassam's art work followed the
Woodin Cup competitions. Source: ITHF.

Under the challenge-cup terms of the Woodin Cup, it was loaned to the victors for a year. There would be three winners each year, one singles winner and two doubles winners (duh!).

When it was won three times (by the same two doubles players, in the case of the doubles cup), the cup became the property of the winner.

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".

Helen Wills Sketch, 1924.
Source: ITHF.
Famed artist Childe Hassam made many sketches of Helen Wills Moody. Three of them are in the ITHF. Two of them are shown here.

In 1949 Louise Brough won both the Singles and the Doubles cups for the third time (with the same doubles partner, although her name changed with her marriage between the first and second tournaments). 

By the terms of Brough's will, these two Woodin Cups were donated to the Hall of Fame after her death. If the Hall of Fame ever falls on hard times, they might sell one of the cups back to the Maidstone Club (the Woodin Cups are brought out only occasionally for special exhibits).
Helen Wills Sketch, 1926.
Source: ITHF.

After 1949, the gold Woodin Cups were replaced by three silver ones by Will and Nan Woodin's daughter, Anne Woodin Miner. The silver invitational Woodin Cups were presented annually until 1955, with Anne Miner's son Charlie and her daughter-in-law Maisie taking over for her along with their fellow Maidstone member and cousin Anne Gerli. Maisie was born Mae Hoffman in Charlotte, North Carolina.

By then, Althea Gibson became a leading player. The only comparable U.S. predecessor in breaking the color bar in spectator sports was Jackie Robinson in baseball. Gibson was not invited to play at Maidstone, although many members favored inviting her and some offered to provide her with a place to stay in their home. 

The intra-club controversy over inviting her, combined with the growing cost to the Maidstone Club of remaining in the fast-growing professional tennis circuit, ended the Maidstone invitational tournament for women.
International Tennis Hall of Fame Inductee (1973) Althea Gibson. This was a
major break through the spectator-sports color bar, 1951-57. Source: ITHF.

Althea Gibson went on to win the major U.S. and British women's tennis tournaments, but quit tennis for golf because she was not earning enough money from her tennis to pay her bills. 

Women's Tennis Costumes on Display at the ITHF.
The one in front looks like a ballet dancer's tutu.
That was because women's professional tennis took years to shed the stigma of not being what you paid to watch. 

Yet  spectators unanimously hailed the diminution of the older women's tennis outfits (less is more), many of which in the earlier years of women's tennis were bizarre and are on display at the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Gibson was successful in golf tournaments, but still not enough to live off year-round. She struggled to make ends meet to the end of her life and her friends periodically took up collections for her.

Meanwhile, following the death of Woodin's granddaughter Anne Gerli in 2016, the Maidstone Club reinstituted cups for women's tennis, after a hiatus of many decades. Three new silver cups were donated by Gerli's three daughters for intramural women's tennis at Maidstone (

(The content of this post will be part of a forthcoming biography of William H. Woodin and his family as well as other possible publications. The text and personal photos for the book copyright © 2013-2018 and earlier by John Tepper Marlin. Please respect the rights of the author to the output of the thinking, time, and expense he has devoted to collecting this material for publication. Please only forward the link to this post and do not cut-and-paste blocks of material, which elimnates the source of the document. Pleae contact him if you have any wish for more information or would like to distribute this further.)