‘Ladies’ dress is always more or less of a trial when taking exercise, and the blessings of our sex would be heaped upon any one who could invent a practical, comfortable, and withal becoming costume.
I’m going off on a tangent for this week’s post as it’s International Women’s Day today. My subject is a woman called Lottie Dod, who you have probably not heard of unless you are a very keen sports fan with a love of history! For me, Lottie is a female voice reaching out from a different era. She achieved so many heights in different sports at a time when females were generally banned from taking part. Born in 1871, she first played tennis in a whalebone corset before ditching it for clothes that were easier to move in, she couldn’t join a golf club; so established her own and was one of the first British women to achieve an Olympic medal.
Lottie wrote in 1897: ‘Ladies’ dress is always more or less of a trial when taking exercise, and the blessings of our sex would be heaped upon any one who could invent a practical, comfortable, and withal becoming costume. It must be becoming, or very few of us would care to wear it.’ (The Guardian)
I first discovered Lottie Dod as an answer to a question while playing Trivial Pursuit with the family. I hadn’t a clue who she was and it was enough to spark my interest to find out more.
Guinness World Book of Records
In fact, Lottie is also mentioned in the Guinness World Book of Records as ‘the most versatile British female athlete ever.’ So I thought, who is this wonderful woman and what did she do?
What did Lottie achieve? Are you ready?
- Won Wimbledon 5 times
- Wimbledon ladies singles champion, aged 15.
- Passed women’s AND men’s skating tests
- British national golf champion
- Member of England women’s national field hockey team
- Olympic silver in Archery in 1908.
- Competed in curling
- The first British woman to achieve championships in both tennis and golf.
That’s pretty versatile.
Who was Lottie Dod?
Charlotte Dod was born in 1871 in Bebington, Merseyside. Her father Joseph had made a fortune in the cotton trade in Liverpool and Lottie fortunately never had to work, which meant she could focus her time on sport. When Lottie was 9 years old, two tennis courts were built near the family home, at that time, lawn tennis was fashionable for wealthy people.
Dod always spoke up in favour of the right of women to dress in a manner that did not impede their tennis.
Lottie first won Wimbledon in 1887 at the age of 15 years and 285 days. At that time, female tennis players wore full length dresses and corsets made out of whalebone which restricted movement. As she was so young, Lottie was allowed to wear clothing that looked like her school uniform. She wore black stockings and shoes, a white flannel cricket cap on her hair and a calf-length dress which allowed her to swiftly move around the court. She then became an advocate of easier clothing for women to play sports in. ottie went on to win Wimbledon in 1888, 1891, 1892 and 1893. Journalists at the time noted that her playing style was so modern, they labelled her ‘The Little Wonder.’
As the skirt must be endured, it is important to have it made somewhat short, reaching to the ankles, and equal in length. That is, seemingly equal; but in reality a lawn tennis skirt should be cut half an inch or an inch shorter at the back than the front.
In 1895, Lottie joined her brother Tony on a trip to St.Moritz. Nice for some, you may think.. but while there she tried her hand at a few sports including:
- Riding the toboggan on the famous Cresta run.
- Competing in curling
- Figure skating, she passed the ladies skating test – the most prestigious figure skating event for women at the time, then passed the men’s test!
On the Cresta Run, the rider goes down as an individual on a toboggan in a lying position head-first, using rakes on the end of special boots to brake and steer.
I would like to have seen the outfit she wore for tobogganing!
With tennis championships behind her, in 1897 Lottie took up field hockey. She became the founding member of a ladies club in Spital. Within 2 years, Lottie became part of the English national team, beating Ireland 3-1. In the rematch in 1900, England won 2-1, with both goals scored by Dod.
At 15, as Lottie won Wimbledon for the first time, she also took up golf! Very few clubs allowed women to play so Lottie established a ladies golf club at Moreton in 1894 and entered the National Championships in Kent. In 1904 Lottie won the British ladies amateur golf championship at Troon.
She was the first woman to win both British tennis and golf championships.
In 1905, Lottie moved to Berkshire and became interested in archery. A year later, she won her first tournament and in 1908 she won a place on the British Olympic team, achieving a silver medal in the Olympics.
World War One
During World War 1, Lottie worked as a nurse for the British Red Cross and received a service medal for more than 1000 hours served in the war.
Lottie Dod died in 1960 in a nursing home in Hampshire.
In 1983, she was elected to the International Tennis hall of fame.
I think Lottie Dod is an inspirational woman.
Some could easily argue that during her era, there were not many women to compete with and her sporting path was assisted by the fact she was wealthy enough to pursue it, also because she never married, she didn’t have to stay at home with children.
Yet she still defeated many obstacles to gain her achievements. She battled to wear comfier clothing in order to play better and faster. Imagine ditching the corset and raising the hemline of an ankle length skirt?! Over 100 years later, Serena Williams’ choice of designer catsuit sparked comments from the male president of the French Tennis Association that she didn’t ‘respect the game’.
Lottie’s interest in golf led her to establishing a ladies club as very few clubs admitted females. She had a great ‘well, I’ll just have to do it myself‘ attitude, persevered and then went on to achieve at the top level.
She loved a challenge, were there many ladies who climbed mountains in Switzerland and then hurled themselves down the Cresta Run headfirst?
And did you know…in 1929 women were banned from using the Cresta Run, it was thought that too much sledding caused breast cancer (by the all-male committee) and that ban was only lifted THIS YEAR 2019 when Carina Evans, a 41 year old mother from Oxfordshire became the first woman to descend the run in 90 years.
Brave, risk taking, challenging and determined, Lottie Dod is a woman more young girls should really know about.
Source material: The Tennis Hall of Fame, The Guardian, Wikipedia, The Telegraph.