Set up in 1884, the Ladies Lawn Tennis Club was the earliest sporting club for women in Singapore. The beginnings of tennis can be traced to Walter Clopton Wingfield who established the rules of the game in 1873 and patented the game in 1874. By 1875, the Singapore Cricket Club was organising competitive lawn tennis championship games.
In May 1883, mixed doubles were included as a category in tennis championship games in Singapore. Introducing mixed doubles in competitive lawn tennis matches led to an increase in spectators and participation in the game. Lawn tennis was not only one of the earliest recreational sports set up for women, but the mixed doubles matches were also a means of interaction between the two genders.
In 1884, A. L. Donaldson led the push in favour of the club and by May 1884, permission from the government was obtained for the club to occupy Dhoby Green.
In July 1884, the club was officially endorsed as the Ladies Tennis Club, to be headed by a committee comprising five women and two men. The acting governor of the Straits Settlements, Cecil Clementi Smith and his aunt, Mrs Clementi Smith, were invited to be the club’s honorary member and Lady Patroness respectively. T. Cuthbertson offered a championship tray valued at $150 while the Sultana of Johore presented a $200-dollar cup as prizes. The Amateur Dramatic Club dedicated two-thirds of their profits from their performance on 8 September 1884 to the Ladies Lawn Tennis Club.
The club rules were drawn up and passed on 29 September 1884. The Dhoby Green, despite initial concerns over its damp and marshy grounds, had been turned into “a handsome little garden [with]…pretty little shrubberies and flower plots” with seven tennis courts. The first competitive match on the grounds was played on 1 December 1884 with prizes for a Ladies’ Championship, Ladies’ Handicap Pairs and Ladies as well as Gentlemen’s Pairs.
By 1905, a $5,000 pavilion was erected on the grounds, which had expanded to include 12 tennis courts and two croquet greens. Although men were welcomed, they could only join the club as subscribers whereas women could become members and serve in the committee.
As tennis became more popular, the number of tennis clubs increased. In 1932, the Ladies Lawn Tennis Club closed as support for it dwindled. The club was also facing financial difficulties and had accumulated a liability of about $5,000. The grounds and clubhouse were eventually taken over by the YMCA.
1. Singapore Sports Council. (2015). Ladies Lawn Tennis Club. Retrieved October 5, 2015 from Sports Singapore website: https://www.sportsingapore.gov.sg/sports-education/history-of-singapore-sports/sports-clubs/ladies-lawn-tennis-club
2. Walter Clopton Wingfield. [n.d.]. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved October 10, 2015 from Encyclopaedia Britannica website: http://global.britannica.com/biography/Walter-Clopton-Wingfield; University Libraries Rare Books and Special Collections. (n.d.). Tennis. Retrieved December 9, 2015, from University of South Carolina website: http://library.sc.edu/spcoll/hist/tennis/lawn.html
3. Makepeace, W.; Brooke, G. E., & Braddell, R. S. J. (1991). One hundred years of Singapore (Vol. 2, p. 331). Singapore: Oxford University Press. Call no.: RSING 959.57 ONE-[HIS]
4. The Lawn Tennis Tournament. (1883, April 30). Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. News of the week. (1883, May 3). Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 2; Untitled. (1883, May 2). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Singapore Amusement. (1884, November 8). Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. The Ladies’ Tennis Club. (1884, July 16). Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 3.; “Ladies Lawn” to close. (1932, July 29). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.; Makepeace, Brooke & Braddell, 1991, vol. 2, p. 337.
8. Makepeace, Brooke & Braddell, 1991, vol. 2, p. 338; Sport Singapore. (2015). Ladies Lawn Tennis Club. Retrieved December 7, 2015, from Sport Singapore website: https://www.sportsingapore.gov.sg/sports-education/history-of-singapore-sports/sports-clubs/ladies-lawn-tennis-club
9. Straits Times Weekly Issue, 16 Jul 1884, p. 1; Straits Times Weekly Issue, 16 Jul 1884, p. 3; Makepeace, Brooke & Braddell, 1991, vol. 2, p. 337. Cricket Honours List. (1932, July 27). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. News of the week. (1884, September 3). Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Untitled. (1884, October 4). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Summary of the week. (1884, November 15). Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 1; Summary of the week. (1884, November 29). Straits Times Weekly Issue, p. 1.; The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 4 Oct 1884, p. 6.; Dhoby Ghaut v. Esplanade. (1884, November 29). Straits Times Weekly, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), 4 Oct 1884, p. 6.
14. Wright, A. (1908). Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya: Its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources (p. 584). London: Lloyd’s Greater Britain Publication. Call no.: RCLOS 959.51033 TWE
15. Sport Singapore. (2015). Ladies Lawn Tennis Club. Retrieved December 7, 2015, from Sport Singapore website: https://www.sportsingapore.gov.sg/sports-education/history-of-singapore-sports/sports-clubs/ladies-lawn-tennis-club; The Straits Times, 29 Jul 1932, p. 13.
The information in this article is valid as at October 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.