Sterry [née Cooper], Charlotte Reinagle (1870–1966), tennis player
by J. G. Smyth, rev.

Sterry [née Cooper], Charlotte Reinagle (1870–1966), tennis player, was born at Wadham Lodge, Ealing, Middlesex, on 22 September 1870, the daughter of Henry Cooper of Caversham, a miller, and his wife, Teresa Georgiana Miller. Charlotte Cooper was the youngest of six children. Her husband, whom she married on 12 January 1901, was Alfred Sterry, a solicitor. They had two children: Gwen, who became a Wimbledon lawn tennis player and represented Britain in the Wightman cup, and Rex (R. B. Sterry), for many years a committee member of the All England club. Gwen married Max Simmers, who won twenty-eight consecutive rugby caps for Scotland.

Charlotte (Chattie) Sterry won the Wimbledon singles championship five times, as Miss Cooper in 1895, 1896, and 1898, and as Mrs Sterry in 1901 and 1908. She was at that time thirty-seven and the mother of two children. It was a remarkable performance to regain the title for a fifth time after an interval of seven years and in doing so Mrs Sterry inflicted the only defeat sustained by the great Mrs Lambert Chambers at Wimbledon, at the hands of a British player, between 1903 and 1919 (during which time the war years of course intervened). Slim, active, and always ready to play for her life, she was one of the most popular players of her day and no champion has ever enjoyed the game of lawn tennis more than she did. Her game was all attack. She was one of the very few top women players before 1914 who served overhead. Mrs Lambert Chambers served underhand and only changed to overhead after the war. Mrs Sterry came to the net at every opportunity but it was her supreme steadiness, her equable temperament, and her great tactical ability which were the main reasons for her success—rather than any brilliance of stroke. She ‘had a go’ at everyone and everything and her smiling good temper and great sportsmanship made her as popular in her heyday as did her invincible spirit and irrepressible joie de vivre in her old age when she came back to Wimbledon to cheer on the younger generation. She learned her tennis at the Ealing Lawn Tennis Club, where she was coached, first by H. Lawrence, then by C. H. Martin and H. S. Mahony. In those days there was no winter play and she kept fit in the winter by skipping, running, and walking and playing hockey, at which sport she became a county player for Surrey. She played tennis, of course, in long skirts, an inch or two above the ground, and only kept two rackets, an old one for wet weather and a good one for best. She got her rackets from Slazenger and her husband always insisted that she should pay for them; the top price for a racket in those days was 30s.

Charlotte Cooper, as she then was, won her first open singles title at Ilkley in 1893. During the eight years 1894–1901, following the retirement of Miss Lottie Dod, Mrs G. W. Hillyard and Miss Cooper led the field of women's tennis, and each of them won the women's singles title four times during that period; then Mrs Sterry won it once more in 1908. She was also an extremely good doubles player. She won the All England mixed doubles with H. S. Mahony for five successive years from 1894 to 1898 and then with H. L. Doherty in 1900 and with X. E. Casdagli in 1908. As in this latter year she won the All England ladies doubles with Miss Garfit, besides being singles champion, she became a treble Wimbledon champion in one year—a very rare achievement; she also won the triple crown in the Irish championships of 1895, when, in addition to the singles, she won the ladies doubles with Miss E. Cooper and the mixed with H. S. Mahony. She won the Irish mixed again with H. S. Mahony in 1896 and with R. F. Doherty in 1899 and 1900 and the Irish ladies championship another twice, with Mrs Hillyard in 1897 and with Miss E. Cooper in 1900. She won the British covered court mixed doubles in 1898, 1899, and 1900, each time with R. F. Doherty. In the Olympic games of 1900 she won two gold medals: for the ladies singles and the mixed doubles (with R. F. Doherty). In addition, she won the Scottish singles championship in 1899 and numerous other championships and challenge cups. These included the singles championships for London (five times), Middlesex (seven times), northern (twice), and Northumberland county (thrice).

Perhaps Mrs Sterry's greatest triumph was gained in 1907. This was the year when one of the greatest players of all time, Miss May Sutton of southern California, aged only twenty, came back to challenge for the Wimbledon title which she had won two years earlier. During her tournaments in Great Britain in that year Miss Sutton only lost one match—to Mrs Sterry at Old Trafford. Mrs Sterry did not defend her Wimbledon singles championship in 1909, but was runner-up to Mrs Larcombe in 1912 and reached the final of the ladies doubles in 1913, eighteen years after gaining her first Wimbledon title.

Mrs Sterry had been deaf since she was twenty-six and in later years lost most of her sight, but her mind and memory remained razor sharp and her morale was excellent. For many years it had been her ambition to be the oldest living Wimbledon champion—both in actual age and in the date of her first championship; and when Lottie Dod, who had won the first of her five championships in 1887 when only fifteen, died at the age of eighty-eight during the Wimbledon championships of 1960, Mrs Sterry was out on her own. She was only three months short of her ninety-first birthday when she flew down unaccompanied from Scotland during the 1961 Wimbledon to attend the champions' luncheon, presided over by the president of the club, Princess Marina, duchess of Kent, to mark the seventy-fifth year of the championships. She lived happily for another five years before she died at Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire, on 10 October 1966.

J. G. SMYTH, rev.

Sources  

Ayres' Lawn Tennis Almanack · J. Smyth and D. Macaulay, Behind the scenes at Wimbledon (1965) · J. Smyth, ‘Memorable Wimbledons’, Wimbledon Programme (1966) · personal knowledge (1981) · private information (1981) · The Times (11 Oct 1966) · The Times (17 Oct 1966) · b. cert. · baptismal records, Ealing St Mary's · The Times (16 Jan 1901)

Likenesses  

portrait, photograph, 1908, Getty Images, London [see illus.] · photograph, repro. in Smyth and Macaulay, Behind the scenes, 32 · photograph, repro. in Observer (27 June 1965)


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Charlotte Reinagle Sterry (1870–1966): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/36284