A People’s History of Tennis: Feminists

David Berry
Writer and documentary film-maker

Feminists”, an extract from my book, A People’s History of Tennis (Pluto Press, 2020) deals with the development of lawn tennis as a sport for women, albeit – at least initially – upper middle-class women, on the lawns of vicarages and country houses in Britain during the last three decades of the 19th Century. It is the second chapter in a book which is aimed at a general and not an academic readership and it is appropriate that it is published here because its central contention, that the first female players had to fight to keep women’s tennis from not being separated off from men’s tennis with a softer ball, lighter racket and smaller court, was first outlined during the ‘The Development of Women’s Sport: Separate but not Equal’ conference held in Malmö in 2010. Like all the other chapters in the book, “Feminists” emphasises the playing and watching of the sport by ‘ordinary’ people. But it also develops an argument running through the book that tennis is a much more radical activity than its conventional image implies. In this chapter, for example, it makes links between tennis playing and suffrage and argues that the early female lawn tennis players were, in many ways, the first sporting feminists.

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DAVID BERRY is a writer and journalist. Educated at Oxford (PPE) and City University (Creative Writing), he has written on health, leisure, and social policy for many newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, Daily Mirror, The Observer, The Sunday Times, Prospect, The New Humanist and The New Statesman. For 25 years, he was a staff producer/director at BBC TV, making award-winning documentaries for all the major BBC channels on subjects as diverse as child development, Early Christian Art and 20th Century Mathematics. As well as A People’s History of Tennis (Pluto Press, 2020), he has written two books about consumer rights. David has been playing tennis since he was 12 years old in clubs and public courts all over Britain and even squeezed in games in France, Spain, Italy, America and the only court in The Gambia.

NEW! David’s book has been included in the Longlist for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award 2020. See the whole list here.

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