WHM: Trailblazers of USTA Eastern

Scott Sode | March 29, 2023

Behind every great organization is an even greater group of women. As Women’s History Month winds down, we look back at some of the female leaders, players and more who have molded USTA Eastern (formerly the Eastern Tennis Association, before that the Eastern Lawn Tennis Association, née the New York Lawn Tennis Association) into what it is today. 


Editor’s Note: This timeline is not exhaustive, because that would be impossible. Special thanks to Dale G. Caldwell and Nancy Gill McShea, whose book “Tennis in New York” served as the source material for much of this information.


1874: Mary Ewing Outerbridge, a 22-year-old from Staten Island, visits family in Bermuda and returns home with balls, racquets and a net from a game she enjoyed during her time away. That game spreads among Outerbridge’s close circle of friends; she eventually becomes known as the “Mother of American Tennis”. (View our Instagram post to learn more.)


1950: At 23 years old, New York’s Althea Gibson—who trained as a teenager at the Cosmopolitan Club in Harlem—breaks the color barrier at a Grand Slam, becoming the first Black player to compete at the U.S. National Championships. She reaches the second round, ultimately falling to the reigning Wimbledon champion Louise Brough. 


1953: In New York, Gladys Heldman publishes the first issue of World Tennis Magazine, which will go on to be a definitive resource in promoting the sport—and in particular, the women’s game—for several decades. 


1956-1958: Gibson becomes the first Black champion of a major, at the French Open in 1956. She then wins singles titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. National Championships two years in a row, in 1957 and 1958. (She also lifts five major doubles trophies during this time.)  After her first historic Wimbledon victory, New York City organizes a parade in her honor.


1968: Eastern tennis mom Seena Hamilton organizes the first-ever Easter Bowl—a premier national tennis tournament for elite junior players. The event debuts at the Midtown Tennis Club in Manhattan. 


1970: Heldman plays an instrumental role in women’s tennis history when she offers her daughter Julie, Billie Jean King and seven other players (now known as the Original Nine) contracts worth $1 to compete on a newly-formed professional women’s tour. The tour eventually leads to the formation of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) in 1973.

1973: Former No. 3-ranked American Tennis Association (ATA) player Arvelia Myers founds the Harlem-based Pyramid Tennis Association. Through the organization, she will introduce the sport to thousands upon thousands of New York City-area kids over multiple decades.

1977: With her fellow Port Washington Tennis Academy alum John McEnroe, Mary Carillo captures the mixed doubles title at the French Open. Carillo will go on to become one of the preeminent voices in the sport as she commentates matches for CBS, NBC and other networks. Later in the year, transgender player Renée Richards—of Forest Hills, New York—fights in court for the right to compete at the US Open and wins it, ultimately reaching the women’s doubles final with partner Betty Ann Stuart.


1978: Barbara S. Williams becomes the first-ever female president of the Eastern Tennis Association, while Doris Herrick assumes the position of executive director. (Herrick will serve in the role for nearly 20 years.)


1981: Morristown, N.J.’s Leslie Allen becomes the first Black woman to win a tour-level singles tournament since Gibson when she defeats top seed Hana Mandlikova in the final of the Avon Championships of Detroit.

1983: Kathleen Horvath—who grew up in New York and was coached as a junior at the Rye Racquet Club—reaches the quarterfinals of the French Open after upsetting world No. 1 Martina Navratilova in the Round of 16. (The match result would become Navratilova’s sole loss of the entire 1983 season; she’d amass an 86-1 record by year’s end.)


1984: Just 16 years old (and already with a win over fellow teenager Steffi Graf under her belt), Scarsdale, N.Y.’s Melissa Brown upsets Zina Garrison to reach the French Open quarterfinals.

1985: Two New York-based players reach the second week of a major. Larchmont, N.Y.’s Terry Phelps upsets the No. 8 seed to earn a quarterfinal berth at the French Open, while Molly Van Nostrand, of Brightwaters, N.Y., scores the same result at Wimbledon as a qualifier.


1988: Gibson, Outerbridge (posthumously) and two-time Wimbledon doubles champion Sarah Palfrey Danzig are honored at the first-ever Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame ceremony. 

1988-1998: After Williams’ tenure a decade earlier, Eastern elects three more female presidents over the next ten years: Elaine F. Viebranz (1988-89), Lois Prince (1994-95) and Marina Nudo (1996-97).


2015: Former Wimbledon doubles semifinalist Katrina Adams, executive director of the Harlem Junior Tennis & Education Program (HJTEP) in the Eastern section, is named president of the national USTA. She is the first Black person to ascend to that position and holds the title for an unprecedented two terms. Elsewhere, Jenny Schnitzerwho as a kid was introduced to the USTA by Myers—is promoted to serve as Eastern’s executive director after working for the organization for more than 20 years.


2019: Amber Marino—who spent the bulk of her adult life running the 15-LOVE tennis non-profit in Albany, N.Y.—becomes the fifth female president of the Eastern section.


2022: A street in New York City is renamed Althea Gibson Way to honor the tennis legend. A ceremony commemorating the name change is held on August 25, on what would have been Gibson’s 95th birthday.


2023: Olga Harvey is elected the sixth female president of the Eastern section.



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