Charlotte Dod was only 16 when she challenged a man to single combat—three men, in fact. It was the summer of 1888, and the British prodigy had already won two Wimbledon titles, earning her the nickname “Little Wonder.” But Dod was always eager for another victory, and three singles matches, each against a top-ranked male tennis player, would attract plenty of publicity. Two of the men knew her already, having partnered with her in mixed doubles. One of them, Ernest Renshaw, even had prior experience in taking on a woman—Dod’s great rival, Blanche Bingley. (On a dare, he had worn cumbersome women’s clothing to do so; he won the match.)
The men allowed Dod to start at 30–0, and she could request replays of up to three points in each set. But the advantages did not all run one way: Dod wore a long, high-necked dress; a corset; thick stockings; and heavy leather shoes. And, like most women at the time, she habitually served underhand. Renshaw lost the first set, and upped his game. One commentator remarked that once he realized “he had no ordinary lady opponent … every stroke was keenly contested.” He recovered to win the match narrowly (2–6, 7–5, 7–5), but the other two men were beaten by a girl. Eighty-five years before Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs fought the “battle of the sexes,” a Victorian teenager showed what women could do.
Dod’s story is all the more extraordinary because, after winning three more Wimbledon victories, she abandoned tennis in the mid-1890s, feeling that she had nothing left to prove. She went on to represent England in field hockey, win an Olympic silver medal in archery, and become an accomplished mountaineer, expert horseback rider, skilled ice-skater, champion golfer, and daredevil tobogganist.
A sensation in England at the end of the 19th century, a time of feminist ferment, Dod was all but forgotten when she died in 1960—“a Victorian relic in a nuclear age,” as the journalist Sasha Abramsky wistfully puts it. In Little Wonder: The Fabulous Story of Lottie Dod, the World’s First Female Sports Superstar, he sets out to write her back into the historical record. In doing so, he joins a well-established feminist project— the rediscovery of lost pioneers of all kinds. Researchers have not yet settled on the athletic equivalent of the playwright Aphra Behn or the mathematician Ada Lovelace. Could Lottie Dod be that figure?
Working out where Dod fits in the pantheon of sporting, and female, greatness is its own sort of feat. After all, she played against a limited pool of amateur opponents, drawn from the upper and middle classes, while wearing clothes chosen for modesty rather than performance. Taking stock of her remarkable versatility is tricky, too. Her omnicompetence now seems like dilettantism, but it might also reflect changing models of success. The current formula for athletic stardom is the “Tiger path,” mimicking Tiger Woods’s early and unwavering hyper-focus, but in his book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David Epstein instead endorses the more eclectic “Roger path”—following Roger Federer, who loved skateboarding, skiing, and wrestling as a child, and settled on tennis only as a teenager.
On the tennis court, Dod wore a long, high-necked dress; a corset; thick stockings; and heavy leather shoes.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
The Relentless Philip Roth
In his life as in his fiction, the author pursued the shameful, the libidinous, the repellent.
DISPATCHES: AMERICA WITHOUT GOD
As religious faith has declined, ideological intensity has risen. Will the quest for secular redemption through politics doom the American idea?
The Radiant Inner Life of a Robot
Kazuo Ishiguro returns to masters and servants with a story of love between a machine and the girl she belongs to.
NO, REALLY, ARE WE ROME?
The sack of the Capitol was thwarted. But history suggests that corrosive change can be hard to see while it’s happening.
When you are an ant, the stakes are always high. There are those who would eat you—birds, snakes, bigger bugs—and those who could trample you and your environment in a single sneakered step. These enormous beings may not mean you any harm, but it is impact, not intention, that matters most.
Private Schools Are Indefensible
The Gulf between how rich kids and poor kids are educated in America is obscene.
The Internet Doesn't Have To Be Awful
The civic habits necessary for a functioning republic have been killed off by an internet kleptocracy that profits from disinformation, polarization, and rage. Here’s how to fix that.
Unlocking the Mysteries of Long COVID
A growing g number of clinicians are on an urgent quest to find treatments for a frighteningly pervasive problem. They’ve had surprising early success.
Beirut – After The Blast
Last summer’s explosion in Beirut killed hundreds of people and damaged much of the city. My efforts to repair my apartment reveal a lot about how Lebanon works—and doesn’t.
Our Sad Souvenirs of The Pandemic
Americans can’t go anywhere, but we’re still buying the T-shirt.
Disorder on the Court
With Rafa, Roger, and Serena in the twilight of their careers, pro tennis is struggling to reform itself. Some players are taking matters into their own hands.
Fit for Life
I thought I was doing this for my mom after her stroke, but I ended up doing it for both of us
You don’t have to spend hours in the gym to reap the health benefits of exercise.
Prized pilothouse possessions
The pilothouse is the nerve center of a power voyagig vessel like this Selene 43 in the Bahamas.
Make Your Adventure – and Your Dog's – Easier, Interesting and Fun
The devil is in the details” is an axiom for a reason: It’s easy to say. It’s infinitely harder to actually do.
Serena Williams – A New Baseline
Whether she wins that 24th Grand Slam singles title or not, tennis star and venture investor Serena Williams is working tirelessly to keep her career in play,
Plan Your Family Holiday Now!
A holiday away with the family can be a great time for everyone, and leave you feeling refreshed and relaxed. However, it is also something that needs to be planned early to get the most out of it - between mum, dad, older kids, younger kids, and maybe pets or grandparents, you could all end up enjoying yourselves as a family… or needing a holiday to get over your holiday!
Giants iconic quarterback is enjoying his retirement
A content Mann is moving forward
At Home Round Robin auction benefits elders-in-need
Sales generate $5,000
TEN TIPS TO CARE FOR YOURSELF - WHILE CARING FOR SOMEONE ELSE
When giving your all in the sacred role of caring for a loved one, an essential piece is often missing from the equation: YOU! You cannot stop living your life. It will not be good for you, and it will certainly not be good for your loved one. The moment you feel trapped, a host of other negative qualities and unhealthy emotions—resentment, anger, impatience, irritability— will begin to creep in.