October 6 – Happy Birthday, Helen Wills

Posted October 6, 2017

Before there was Serena Williams, there was Martina Navratilova. 

And before there was Martina Navratilova, there was Helen Wills.

Helen Wills was THE dominant women's tennis player of her time. She has even been called the greatest female player in history. 

She played in shorter skirts than the women who came before her, and she practiced with men in order to get better. She even played and beat a ranked male player in an exhibition match.

(That's right, before there was the "Battle of the Sexes" with Billie Jean King, there was Wills playing against a man - and winning!)

Wills was born on this date in 1905, and she died in 1998, a 98-year-long life. (She played tennis into her 80s!) She was quite the 1900s gal - born at the turn of one century, died about the turn of the next.

But what I found most interesting about this excellent athlete, this star competitor who had eight Wimbledon titles, was her non-tennis exploits:

Wills wrote poetry as a hobby and wrote a coaching manual, an autobiography, a mystery, and articles for magazines.

She painted all her life, and she exhibited her paintings and etchings in NYC galleries.

She hung out with a senator and with artists, including famous Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. 

And when she died, Wills gave $10 million to - guess what? A foundation that helps youth learn tennis? An arts museum or poetry scholarship?

No, she gave her many millions to the University of California, Berkeley, to establish a neuroscience institute. Neuroscience, as you probably know, is basically brain science - or, really, the study of the entire nervous system.

I think it's so cool to see a whole, complex person who achieved a ton in one area but had lots of other interests, too!

Also on this date:

(First Friday in October)

Inventor George Westinghouse's birthday
(First Friday in October)


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