ALICE MARBLE, CONTRIBUTOR



Alice Marble (R) and Althea Gibson (L)
Alice Marble was born in Beckworth, California, on September 28, 1913. Her father died in an automobile accident when she was six years old. After his death, the family moved to San Francisco, where they lived near the tennis courts of Golden Gate Park. Playing there was free, so the sport was attractive to the poor family, especially to Marble's brothers.

In 1936 Marble lived up to her potential, winning the national singles championship and the mixed doubles championship. In 1938 she won the Wimbledon women's doubles, repeating that win in 1939, as well as capturing that year's singles title. In fact, 1939 would prove a phenomenal year for Marble as she became the first woman ever to win the British and U.S. women's singles, doubles, and mixed doubles championships all in the same year. She won the Wimbledon mixed doubles title from 1937 to 1939, and in 1939 and 1940 the Associated Press named her Female Athlete of the Year. In Courting Danger, written when she was 77, Marble looked back on her tennis career: "When you've lived as long as I have, the sheer joy of having played the game comes to matter more than the victories, the records, the memories."

More importantly, and integral to the Althea Gibson story, Marble was the first to publicly address the sport's segregation practices and challenge the establishment. She wrote her historic July 1, 1950 editorial in American Tennis Magazine. Marble denounced the all-white U.S. Lawn Tennis Association's policy of excluding African-Americans from competition. She exhorted, "If tennis is a game for ladies and gentlemen, it's also time we acted a little more like gentle people and less like sanctimonious hypocrites. If Althea Gibson represents a challenge to the present crop of women players, it's only fair that they should meet that challenge on the courts."

As a result of Marble's courageous and tenacious editorial, and her well-respected position, Gibson, 23, was invited to play in the 1950 U.S National Championships (now the US Open) and won the championship that year. Thus, she became the first African-American player, man or woman, to compete in a Grand Slam event. In 1957, she became the first African-American to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals and the first to be named the AP Female Athlete of the Year.

Alice Marble also was a fashion trendsetter. She dared to wear white shorts on the court in 1932, instead of the customary long skirt and restrictive, heavy clothing of the times. Such a fashion statement was considered outrageous, until function and practicality were accepted in female sports attire and ultimately revolutionized the standards for women's casual clothing.

Throughout her busy and productive life, Marble suffered from health problems, but nothing seemed to stop her, including colon cancer and the loss of a lung to pneumonia. By 1965 she was happily settled at the Palm Desert Country Club in Palm Desert, California, where she taught tennis and continued to follow and visit with the young champions of the day until her death there in 1990.


(Bio:  Encyclopedia.com and Author, Huffpost Contributor, Beverly Wettenstein)


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