Tennis executives trailblazed women’s rights

Written by Staff Writer

Thomas Patterson, who has died at the age of 96, represented one of the first group of influential women tennis executives of this late 20th century. Patterson was a tough, stylish executive, now well-remembered in her field, and had the foresight to recruit an all-male team in 1939. The women’s division has taken a step forward ever since.

1 / 7 The entrance of the National Women’s Team during the Tennis Magazine Women’s Doubles Finals at the Virginia Slims Tennis Championships on July 9, 2012 in the USA. The 4-time Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova is the new face of the brand, which is focusing on an advertising campaign at its Portland outpost. Credit: Getty Images

Martina Navratilova at Wimbledon in 1989 Credit: Ken McKay/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As a distinguished attorney and amateur player, Patterson saw her women’s foresight was due to several reasons. For one, there was the vacuum left in the sport by men’s dominance. For another, public interest in tennis was increasing as the professional era began — and often the most heated arguments raged about unequal prize money between men and women.

In that environment, Patterson convinced Frank Bacon, the executive director of the All-American Tennis Association (AATA), to hire four partners — all of whom were white men — to form a women’s team to avoid a lawsuit from the National Federation of Women’s Sports Organizations (NFWSO). Their name was 9, an aperitif of alcohol — and 7, the number of their matches against the men’s squads — who remained together for the next 40 years.

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