Blog post

Kathleen McKane Godfree

Champion tennis player in the 1920s

colour photograph of Kathleen McKane holding a tennis racket
Adrian Murphy (opens in new window) (Europeana Foundation)

Tennis has been a part of the Olympic Games since the first championships in 1896, albeit with a large break for more than 60 years while the definition of an amateur player was debated.

In all this time, there are only two tennis players to have won five Olympic medals: Venus Williams and Kathleen McKane Godfree. Venus Williams' four gold and one silver Olympic medals add to her many Grand Slam titles, confirming her as one of the greatest tennis players of all time.

However, Kathleen McKane Godfree - who played in the 1920s - may be less well remembered today.

black and white photograph of Kathleen McKane playing tennis

Born in 1896 in London, Kitty McKane learned to play tennis at Saint Leonard's School in Scotland. She made her competitive debut in a tournament in Roehampton in April 1919 and, just a few weeks later, reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon. She soon became Britain's number one player.

black and white photograph of Kathleen McKane playing tennis in front of a large audience

In the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, she won a gold, silver and bronze medal in the Doubles, Mixed Doubles and Singles competitions respectively.

black and white photograph of four tennis players standing in front of tennis court net

The 1920s continued with great sporting success for McKane. She won Wimbledon singles titles in 1924 and 1926, as well as reaching the finals of the French Open in 1923 and 1925 and the US Open Final in 1925. That year, she became the first person to reach the finals of the French, Wimbledon and US championships.

black and white photograph of Kathleen McKane playing tennis
black and white photograph of Kathleen McKane playing at Wimbledon

As a doubles player, she won the US Open in 1923, 1925 and 1927, and Wimbledon titles in 1924 and 1926. She was also a finalist in the French Open three times.

black and white photograph of Kathleen McKane and Walter Crawley playing tennis
black and white photograph of a doubles tennis match taking place

She won a silver and bronze medal at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, in Doubles (with Phyllis Covell) and Singles.

black and white photograph of two tennis players

In addition to tennis, McKane was also a successful badminton player, winning eight singles and doubles in the All England Open Badminton Championships in the 1920s.

In 1926, McKane married Leslie Godfree. That year, they became the only married couple to have ever won the mixed doubles championship at Wimbledon. In keeping with this family theme, four years earlier, in 1922, Kitty and her sister Margaret McKane Stocks became the first pair of sisters to play in a Wimbledon doubles final.

McKane reached a career high ranking of number two in the world several times in the 1920s. In 1978, she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and presented the Wimbledon winner's trophy to Martina Navratilova in 1986. Kathleen McKane Godfree died on 19 June 1992, aged 96.

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