September 3, 1881: The First US National Tennis Championship

When the Newport (R.I.) Casino opened in the summer of 1880 with its block of fine shops, restaurant, archery, billiards, concerts, dancing, horse shows, lawn bowling, tea parties, theatricals, croquet, and tennis, the Newport News gushed “It is doubtful if a more lively place can be found.”

newportTennis-1024x822The Casino found its place on Bellevue Avenue thanks to the events of one fine day during the previous August when James Gordon Bennett, the publisher of the New York Herald, and Captain Henry Augustus “Sugar” Candy of the Queen’s 9th Royal Lancers (and skillful Polo player) were up to their usual summer hi-jinx around the summer colony’s cottages.

On a lark, Bennett bet Captain Candy he couldn’t ride his polo pony up onto the front porch of Newport’s exclusive men’s club, “The Reading Room”. Captain Candy, without any hesitation, mounted his horse and rode onto the porch – and then proceeded right up the front steps, across the piazza, through two sets of broad doors and into the main hall. “Sir,” the white-coated steward informed him at that point, “you cannot ride a horse in here.”

The Governors of the Reading Room were not amused. The act was “a clear violation of the rules,” and they immediately revoked the guest privileges of Captain Candy and soon thereafter Bennett’s own Reading Room membership as well. Fortunately Bennett had the means to build his own “club house” and he quickly commissioned McKim, Mead and White to design the “Newport Casino”.

Late the following summer, the first US National Lawn Tennis Association Championship was the headline event at the new Casino. As a string quartet played on the sidelines and the swells of Newport cheered, 25 young contestants representing the member clubs of the new United States National Lawn Tennis Association met on the close-cropped grass courts to vie for the national title.

The doubles championship came down to a Philadelphia final as Clarence Clark and Fred Taylor (both from Germantown) edged Sandy Van Rensselaer and Art Newbold (also both from the Main Line) in a tight three set match (6-5, 6-4, 6-5) (a margin of one game took a set in those days).

Then the singles players came out. Dick Sears, the nineteen-year-old Harvard man vanquished Bill Powell in the first round (6-0, 6,2), and Anderson in the round of sixteen (6-1,6-2). He continued on his roll as he bested Crawford Nightingale in the quarterfinals (6-3, 6-5) and Ed Gray (6-3, 6-0) in the semis. Finally he met Bill Glyn from the Staten Island Cricket and Base Ball Club, and bested him in the three set final (6-0, 6-3, 6-2). Dick Sears went on to win the next six championships in both singles, as well as in doubles with partner James Dwight, before retiring undefeated.

The US National Championships were held in Newport for 34 years before eventually moving on to Forest Hills, but the Newport Casino remains the hub of tennis in Newport and the home of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

August 22 1762: Ann Franklin takes over as Editor of the Newport Mercury

Ann Smith Franklin was sixty-seven years old when her son James Jr. died and left her a four-year-old newspaper to tend. Ann Franklin knew exactly what to do.

printShe had learned the printing business in Boston alongside her husband James, and had instructed his young apprenticed brother Benjamin well enough for him to be able to set up his own press. Ann and James published the New England Courant, which many considered disrespectful of the civil authorities, so after James spent a month in jail for expressing his opinions a bit too clearly, the couple decamped for Newport.

There they set up Rhode Island’s first printing press and all went well until 1735 when her husband James got terribly sick and died. Ann was thirty-nine years old and found herself left with the family printing business and five young children to feed.

In 1736, she asked the General Assembly of Rhode Island for a contract: Whereas your petitioner being left with several small children which is a great charge to her, and having not sufficient business at the printing trade, humbly prays hour Honors will grant her the favor to print Acts of the Colony and what other things shall be lawful and necessary to be printed, in order for your Petitioner’s support and maintenance of her family, she having no other way to support herself.

She got the job. Operating under the imprint of “The Widow Franklin” she also printed books, sermons, pamphlets, election ballots, legal forms, the Rhode Island Almanack, the colony’s charter, paper currency, broadsides of private quarrels, advertisements for merchants, as well as popular British novels.

She sent her son James, Jr. off to apprentice with his Uncle Benjamin in Philadelphia, while her daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, helped her set type in the shop. When James returned from Philadelphia in 1748, they named the business ‘Ann and James Franklin.’ Ten years later they started The Newport Mercury and it became one of colonial America’s important newspapers.
When James, Jr. died in 1762, Ann went right back to the printing press and became editor of the newspaper as well.

Ann Smith Franklin died on April 16, 1763. Her obituary appeared in The Mercury describing her as someone whose ‘economy and industry … supported herself and her family, and brought up her children in a genteel manner.’ She was the first American woman newspaper editor, the first woman to write an almanac, the official printer to the colony of Rhode Island, and a pioneer in American publishing.

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