Jacobs, Helen Hull (1908–1997)

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Jacobs, Helen Hull (1908–1997)

American tennis player and author who won four consecutive U.S. women's singles titles. Name variations: "Little Helen." Born Helen Hull Jacobs in Globe, Arizona, on August 6, 1908; died in East Hampton, New York, on June 2, 1997; daughter of Roland Herbert Jacobs and Eula (Hull) Jacobs; attended Anna Head School for Girls (Berkeley); attended the University of California at Berkeley, 1926–29; attended William and Mary College, 1942; never married; no children.

National junior tennis champion (1924–25); was first to win four consecutive U.S. women's singles championships (1932, 1933, 1934, 1935); won the U.S. women's doubles championship (1932, 1933, 1934); won the Wimbledon singles championship (1936); was a six-time Wimbledon finalist; was a member of the American Wightman Cup team for 13 successive years; ranked in the world's top ten (1928–40).

Designer of sports clothes, New York City; senior editor, Grolier Book of Knowledge, New York City; served on Republican National Committee (1932); served as lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve (1954), becoming Commander USNR, retired.

Selected publications:

Modern Tennis (1933); (autobiography) Beyond the Game (1936); Laurel for Judy; Tennis (1941); By Your Leave, Sir (1943); Gallery of Champions (1949); Center Court (1950); Judy, Tennis Ace (1951); Proudly She Serves (1953); Storm Against the Wind (1954); Famous Women Athletes (1964); The Young Sportsman's Guide to Tennis (1965).

Famous for her historical matches against her nemesis Helen Wills , Helen Hull Jacobs was nonetheless a champion in her own right,

winning four consecutive U.S. women's singles championships between 1932 and 1935, a record equaled only by Molla Mallory and Chris Evert . For three years (1932–34), she was also the U.S. women's doubles champion. Popular with players and fans, in 1933 Jacobs was the first woman to break with tradition by wearing man-tailored shorts at Wimbledon.

Helen Hull Jacobs was born in Globe, Arizona, in 1908, the daughter of Roland Herbert Jacobs and Eula Hull Jacobs . The family moved to San Francisco shortly before World War I, then to Berkeley, California, where Helen Wills also lived. Helen Jacobs learned to play tennis at the Berkeley Tennis Club under Pop Fuller. She won her first title in 1924, becoming the National Junior Tennis champion, a victory she repeated the following year. For 13 years, she was a member of the American Wightman Cup team, and she brought the crown home to America in 1936, when she won the women's singles at Wimbledon. She would not win again at Wimbledon, although she was a finalist in the games there from 1929 through 1938.

Jacobs' rivalry with Helen Wills began when she was just 14, at a practice set arranged by Fuller. The older Wills won the set 6-0, and, although Jacobs was eager to play another, Wills declined. From then on, an uneasiness existed between the women whenever they appeared together on the court, even though they both repeatedly denied a feud. "During all the years in which we were both playing, we never once exchanged an unpleasant word!," said Jacobs (known as Little Helen). Wills (known as Queen Helen) also noted that Jacobs "was hardly an enemy." Regardless, Britain's Kay Stammers , a leading player during the 1930s, felt that something was amiss. "There was definite friction between them—particularly, I think, on Helen Wills' side. They met when they played tennis: but apart from that, I don't think they had a great deal to do with one another." Wills dominated the rivalry, allowing Jacobs only one win in seven major championship finals (1936), but Jacobs was a fighter. George Lott, an American doubles player, believed that part of what made Jacobs so popular was her perseverance. "I always thought she got the furthest with the leastest," he wrote. "She had a forehand chop, a sound backhand, and lots and lots of stomach muscles. She was buffeted from pillar to post by Helen Wills and still came back for more."

After retiring from tennis, Jacobs' career took some interesting twists and turns. In 1943, following a year at William and Mary College, she joined the WAVES during World War II and served as public relations officer at the U.S. Training School in the Bronx and the Naval Station in Dalgren, Virginia. In 1953, she became Officer in Charge of Enlisted Personnel (inactive) in New York City. After leaving the service, Jacobs remained in New York City, where she was a designer of sports clothes for women, and in 1961, she joined Grolier Company as a senior editor for their Book of Knowledge. Over the years, Jacobs also authored some 19 books, including Young Sportsman's Guide to Tennis, several tennis novels, and her autobiography, Beyond the Game (1936). Jacobs did not pick up a tennis racket, however, after 1947, when she tore the Achilles tendon in her leg and was advised not to attempt the game again.


King, Billie Jean. We Have Come a Long Way. NY: Mc-Graw-Hill, 1988.

Lamparski, Richard. Whatever Became of …? 1st and 2nd Series. NY: Crown, 1967.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Jacobs, Helen Hull (1908–1997)

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