Mary Outerbridge

Mary Outerbridge

Class of 1981

Contributor

Career Achievements

Contributions to Tennis

  • Mother of American Tennis
  • One of the early introducers of tennis to America
Citizenship: USA Born: March 9, 1852 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Died: May 3, 1886 Played: Right-handed

While are there several claimants for the introduction of tennis in the United States, and the identity remains open to debate, there is no doubt that Mary Ewing Outerbridge played a significant role in the game that made its American debut in 1874.

Celebrated by some historians as the “Mother of American Tennis,” Mary Ewing Outerbridge, is believed to have introduced tennis to the New York City area in 1874. Reports of her actions suggests that while she was vacationing in Bermuda during the winter of 1874 she noticed some British army officers in a distant corner of a cricket field playing lawn tennis. Major Walter Clopton Wingfield’s boxed lawn tennis set (called Sphairistiké – Greek for “playing ball”) had been patented in England on February 23, 1874 and a few months later several sets were sent to Bermuda for use by men stationed there. The Outerbridge family relates that Mary played the game while in Bermuda and when she returned to Staten Island, New York in the spring of 1874, she brought back some of the equipment that had been given to her by the British officers. “When she brought them through customs, the agent didn’t know how much duty to charge,” Thomas Matteo, the borough historian, told New York Times City Room blog in August 2010.

Shortly thereafter, she set up a court at the Staten Island Cricket and Baseball Club. Some mystery remains, however, as the earliest account on record of Outerbridge’s introduction of the game is from 1887.