Behind the racket: Interview with national and international champion tennis player and alumna Jeanne Arth

Jeanne Arth, St. Kate’s alumna ’56, reminisces about her experience in playing the game of tennis, reflects on how it has altered into a money-centered entity and states her reasons for pursuing a career in education instead of continuing to play. She also touches on what St. Kate’s was like in her day, and what she may or may not have done differently if she was in school now.

Why tennis?

Arthe playing tennis at age 6.

Arth playing tennis at age 6.

 

Jeanne Arth: “When I was five years old, my parents bought their first house, and we were about four houses away from the tennis club. It was a very snooty club- we weren’t a part of it because we didn’t have a lot of money. All the rich people from the area belonged to the club- it was pretty exclusive. My dad played tennis once in a while with some fellows at a public course, and so my mother bought my sister, Shirley, and I some rackets. We would go to a nearby school and hit balls against its wall, or on the sidewalk. The manager of the tennis club saw us one day and went, ‘If you wanna come in here, and use our practice court, we’ll let you do that.’ So that’s how we learned. When I was about 10 years-old and my sister was about 12, they started asking us to sub in for people who didn’t show up. Or if some people were just waiting around, they would hit balls with us. Besides that, we never had formal lessons per say, it was just by chance. The funny thing is, if we had moved one block over, I probably never would have played tennis seriously because the manager never would have seen us. My parents never, never had any idea I would go so far. Never. My sister and I were good enough that we could win, and things happened. I guess I’m sort of the exception because I didn’t have lessons and I didn’t play 12 months a year. We just didn’t have money for my parents to take us to different places. A lot of times, people think tennis was my life, and yet it wasn’t because I didn’t spend that much time on it. I couldn’t.”

Why did you retire from tennis so early?

JA: “After ’59 if I wanted to get better, I would have had to quit my teaching job and I would have had to go out to a place like California. I thought, ‘What would I live on?’ I’d play all year and there was no money in it. I couldn’t live on that. I had to earn a living and teaching was it. Tennis was a small part of my life. People today say, ‘Oh, I remember that name.’ But it was really a small part of my life. If I never played tennis, I would have been just a regular person, without any fanfare or anything like that. Every time I played after I graduated, it always said after my name, ‘A recent graduate of St. Catherine’s and a teacher at Holy Angels.’ They got tons of publicity on that. People would say, ‘A professional athlete and a teacher?!’ That’s the way I was always referred to. When I was inducted into the St. Kate’s Hall of Fame, I just thought, ‘If I hadn’t engaged in tennis, I’d just be one more student.'”

Arthe was the first alumni to be inducted into the St. Kate's Athletic Hall of Fame. Her plague is highlighted, and this display can be found on the 2nd floor of the Butler Center.

Arth was the first alumni to be inducted into the St. Catherine Athletic Hall of Fame. Her plaque is highlighted, and this display can be found on the 2nd floor of the Butler Center.

 

Was it hard for you to stop in your prime?

JA: “No it wasn’t, because I’m sort of realistic, and I’m not one to go chasing after trophies. Maybe I would have gotten a little better, maybe not, who knows. I would have been 24 then and even if I did have money, I don’t think I would have wanted to play all year like that. Back then it was a game- you just played for the fun of it. Now it’s a business because of the money. You don’t do anything unless you get paid. Winning Wimbledon now, I think you win probably about $500,000 on top of all your endorsements. If I would have been ranked the same today as I was then, I would be making at least a couple million dollars. But, that wasn’t the way it was. There wasn’t any money in tennis until the ’60’s. I would not have even been able to play unless the Northwest Tennis Association paid my way.”

 Arthe (right) with Darlene Hard after they had won the women's doubles title at the U.S. Championship in '58.

Arth (right) with Darlene Hard after they had won the women’s doubles title at the U.S. Championship in 1958.

 

Who or what do you attribute your success to in tennis?

JA: “First of all, we had a good home. My mom and dad could not go to the tournaments or anything like that, and we didn’t have much money, but we had a good home. I also think about the opportunities playing up at the tennis club there; the women we played with didn’t realize how much of an impact it had just being able to play with them when somebody didn’t show up. The first year I went to Philadelphia when I was 13, Mary and Charlie Hare, who were from England, (she was Mary Hardwick Hare, a world-class player) took a liking to us and provided some Wilson rackets and other things. Just people along the way that probably wouldn’t even realize they helped us.”

What was St. Kate’s like in your day?

JA: “It was a small college, and the only ones who lived on campus were the ones who lived out of the city. Nobody in the city lived on campus because they didn’t have enough buildings. They had Whitby, Derham, and Caecilian, and when you were a senior you could live in Fontbonne. You would just drop dead if you knew how it was back then- it was like night and day. Back then, you had to always wear skirts, always wear nylons, and we had Saturday classes. We were taking 20-21 credits every quarter, and some days I wouldn’t get home until 5 o’clock because I had four or five classes. Religious-wise, everyone who went to St. Kate’s back then was Catholic; it was really a Catholic college. But things have changed. One-hundred percent. Women couldn’t go into much. You could be a nurse, a teacher, a librarian, a social worker an Occupational Therapist, and that was about it. You couldn’t go into anything else, like business or anything like that. There were no engineers, no lawyers, nothing for women. It was very limited in what you could go into. Now you can go into anything you want! If I was young now, I would have liked to go into something financial, like stock broking or something like that. I like that kind of stuff; I like business type things like that.”

How did St. Kate’s impact your life?

JA: “In terms of tennis when I went to St. Kate’s, there were no women’s sports- that didn’t come in until Title IX in the ’60’s. There were no sports or teams or anything like that, so tennis really had nothing to do with St. Kate’s, but I liked St. Kate’s at the time. I had an excellent education. I would never regret my education here. But the college today is one-hundred percent different, and rightfully so.”

Arthe with her replica Wimbledon trophy from her '59 win.

Arth with her replica Wimbledon trophy from her 1959 win.

Any advice for all the women here on campus?

JA: “Live in the present moment. So much of our time is spent thinking about the past and the future, but soon you realize all the worries were for nothing. Just enjoy where you are, who you are and be content.”

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