Gladys Heldman

Induction Year: 1987

 

Gladys Medalie Heldman (1922–2003) was the founder of World Tennis magazine. She supported Billie Jean King and other female tennis players who formed the Virginia Slims Tour in the early 1970s (the precursor of today’s WTA Tour). A native of New York City, Heldman was first in her class at Stanford University. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1942 with Phi Beta Kappa honors. Two days after graduation, she married Julius Heldman, an avid tennis player with a Ph.D. in physical chemistry, who became a chemistry professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Heldman received her master’s degree in medieval studies from the University of California, Berkeley in 1943.

 

In 1949 Heldman’s husband’s career took him to Shell Oil Company in Houston, Texas. After the birth of their daughters, Julius Heldman, who had played tennis for UCLA, encouraged his wife to take up tennis. She went on to be ranked No. 1 in Texas and No. 2 in the Southwest in 1954, and that same year played in the early rounds at Wimbledon. Heldman also played several times in what is now the U.S. Open.

 

Heldman created, edited and published a one-page mimeographed newsletter called Houston Tennis that, in 1953, grew into World Tennis magazine. For years, it was the sport’s most prominent publication. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Heldman used her magazine to push for equal coverage and opportunity for female tennis players.

 

In 1970 Heldman worked with female tennis players to create a separate women’s circuit. With backing from Joe Cullman of Philip Morris, the first participants in the circuit, known as the “Original Nine,” played the first Virginia Slims Circuit tournament. The players accepted $1 contracts from Heldman.

 

At first the USLTA punished the women who played in the Heldman-sponsored events. After a three-year power struggle that included lawsuits initiated by Heldman and King against the USLTA, reconciliation was reached. Men and women professionals began to play at the same events. Part of the 1973 agreement was for Heldman to give up her leadership role in the women’s organization. Heldman sold World Tennis to CBS Publications.

 

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