Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Pioneering Women Tennis Players of Montreal

The Royal Victoria Tennis team. McGill website.  Lawn tennis was the first group set up by women at McGill. Dr. Grace Ritchie England, in the first graduating class in 1888, mentioned it in her valedictory speech. She also demanded that women be allowed into McGill Med School, defying Principal Dawson. When militant suffragette Barbara Wylie spoke in Montreal in November, 1912 she also mentioned tennis as in 'If women are now playing tennis, why shouldn't they be allowed to vote.'

Donaldas with their hair down in their nighties, from the Old McGill Yearbook, 1900... from McGill website. This picture must have proven, ah, interesting, to the male students.


When the first women were accepted as students at McGill University in Montreal,  no one worried about them falling in love with their male counterparts, only the other way around. They worried that the young men might fall in love with the young women.

In Victorian times, I guess, it was considered improbable that a young woman would find a young man attractive: after all, women were looking for men to protect them. (Something like that.)

Middle class women, it seems to follow, were supposed to fall in love ONLY with men Mummy approved of, men who had established themselves in life and who could take care for a wife.

Seems funny, nowadays.

I imagine the males at McGill were a bit afraid of the Donaldas, who were boffo pioneers after all.

The two genders did mix, however.

Here's a bit from Old McGill 1900, about the Women's Lawn Tennis Club. McGill women had their own tennis club from 1889 onwards.


Thirty Donaldas played tennis on the 'very good courts.' I wish I knew where these courts were located. I had to make it up for my story Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British invasion of militant suffragettes to Montreal in 1912/13 that has two characters who are Donaldas, one of whom loves tennis!


Furies Cross the Mersey: A Story of 1912 (School Marms and Suffragettes Book 6)

Two young women in crisp white duck middy blouses over long ankle length skirts, black kerchiefs at their necks, white laced sneakers on their feet and large wooden tennis racquets on their laps, sit on a bench and await their turn on the court.

“Warm up!” orders a lady coach from the back of the court.

“Yes, Miss Cartwright,” the girls answer in tandem.

They stand and begin stretching out their legs. 

One girl is tall and slim-boned, the other shorter, with a trim muscular build and broad coat hanger shoulders that make her waist, uninhibited by stays for the time being, seem smaller than it is.

The tall girl has medium dark brown hair with few highlights tied up in a bun and pale skin, because she is an indoor, studious type and the shorter girl has long strawberry-blond hair laced with golden threads and because she is an outdoor type her hair is tied back in a ponytail.  She also has applied a liberal amount of Hains Skin Balm to her face to protect her skin from the sun and wind.

The shorter girl has blue eyes, an upturned nose and a pink rosebud mouth; the tall girl has hazel eyes, on the greenish side, a broad face with prominent cheekbones, a long tapered nose and a wide mouth with thinnish lips and beautiful straight teeth as white as milk.

The tall, serious girl is Mathilda Jenkins; the shorter golden girl is Penelope Day.


They are strangers to each other. They have just been slapped together for the first time, in the very first P. E. class of the year, an absolutely random act that will have serious implications for the future.  I promise.