Considering how blurred the lines are today between amateur and professional sports, it is difficult to imagine a time when the rules were so strict that athletes were actually banned from competing in amateur competition simply for considering the idea of becoming a professional. Such was the case for tennis legend Pauline Betz Addie, who recently passed away at the age of 91.
As women’s sports rose in prominence and stature during World War II, Betz Addie was the most dominant women’s tennis player in the country.
After having reached the finals the previous year, she won the U.S. National Championship (now the U.S. Open) for the first time in 1942 while still an undergraduate student at Rollins College in Florida. She went on to appear in the finals every year between 1941 and 1946 and claimed the championship four times.
In 1946 she appeared at Wimbledon for the only time in her career and easily won the title without dropping a set. Later that year, she won the U.S. Nationals for the fourth time and appeared on the cover of Time magazine, which pronounced her the “first lady of tennis.”
However, that would be the last year in which she would be able to compete for the most prestigious titles in tennis.
Until 1968, the four major tennis championships – U.S. National, French, Australian and Wimbledon – were all amateur events with no prize money and professionals were barred from competing.
For that reason, even the best players in the game had regular jobs to pay for normal living expenses. Even after having claimed grand slam titles, Betz Addie worked as a waitress to pay the bills.
When it was learned that Betz Addie had explored the possibility of becoming a professional player, she was banned from amateur competition because of “intent” and not allowed to defend her championships.
No longer able to participate in the highest profile events in her sport, Betz Addie spent the next several years touring with a number of men’s professional players including Jack Kramer, Bobby Riggs and Pancho Segura.
In 1949 she married Bob Addie, a sports writer for the Washington Times-Herald and later the Washington Post, and became a teaching professional.
She continued to play competitive tennis into her 80s.
Betz Addie is one of several top-level women’s tennis players who competed at little Rollins College during the 1940s and 1950s. Here is a link to a previous Sports Then and Now article that highlights the history of this prestigious women’s tennis program.