Bertha Townsend Toulmin

Bertha Townsend Toulmin

Class of 1974

Master Player

Career Achievements

Grand Slam Results
3-time U.S. Nationals champion
Contributions to Tennis
First repeating champion at the U.S. Nationals
Developed the backhand and underhand serve
Citizenship: USA Born: March 7, 1869 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Died: May 11, 1909 Played: Left-handed
Bertha Townsend Toulmin and Ellen Hansell, both natives of Philadelphia, shared a commonality in that neither had lengthy careers, competing for just a few years, and both mysteriously stopped playing tennis when their careers were maturing and on the rise. Each had a considerable impact on tennis as a pioneer of the women’s game, and for Townsend, it was her back-to-back U.S. National Women’s Singles Championships, the development of the backhand, and her mastery of serving underhand. Townsend, who died at a youthful 40, played in the U.S. National Championships in her hometown three times.
Townsend defeated defending champion Hansell in 1888, 6-3, 6-5. She became the first female repeat champion in the young history of the Championships in 1889 when she ousted Linda Vorhees, 7-5, 6-3. A bid for a three-peat was nullified in 1890, when Ellen Roosevelt won her first title, defeating Townsend, 6-2, 6-2. Quiet until 1894, Townsend still had enough polish in her game to advance to the all-comers final, losing to Helen Hellwig, 6-2, 7-5. She advanced to the semifinals the following year and ended her career with an 8-3 record at the U.S. Nationals.
Townsend captured the first U.S. Women’s Doubles Championships in 1889, partnering with Margarette Ballard to defeat Laura Knight and Marian Wright, 6-0, 6-2. 
An excerpt from the book Wild Woman by Autumn Stephens contained the following, “The backhand tennis stroke was invented in 1886 by tennis champion Bertha Townsend. Townsend was a 'lefty' and felt it was a liability to leave that part of the court vulnerable, especially in highly competitive matches. So, she transformed her weakness into a winning strategy by tailoring the new stroke to her unique body mechanics. It wasn’t long before the backhand was adopted to great effect by her competitors, and of course, is still used today...Townsend used under-hand serving as a technique to provide a winning edge, and although it didn’t catch on among her contemporaries, it was unique to her style and playing strategy.”
Grand Slam

Grand Slam Best Results


2 Singles | 1 Doubles
U.S. Nationals: W 1888, 1889

U.S. Nationals: W 1889