Heldman, Gladys : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Heldman, Gladys

Gladys Medalie Heldman

Heldman was considered the anchor of the women's game for two decades. The founder of World Tennis magazine in the early 1950s, she supported Billie Jean King and other disgruntled female tennis players who formed the Virginia Slims Tour in the early 1970s (the precursor of today's WTA tour). According to the encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, Heldman "almost single-handedly stimulated American tennis." Gladys also received a Master's degree in Medieval history and was a college mathematics professor. Heldman is a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Birth and Death Dates:
b. May 13, 1922

Career Highlights:
Heldman first became interested in tennis after marrying Julius Heldman, the United States junior champion in 1936. Gladys started playing tennis after her two daughters were born (her daughters, Carrie Heldman and Julie Heldman, had national junior rankings, and Julie was ranked as high as No. 5 in the world). Originally a New Yorker, Gladys rose to a No. 1 ranking in Texas, as well as No. 2 in the Southwest; she even appeared at Wimbledon in 1954 and also competed in the U.S. Championships at Forest Hills.

Although she achieved success as a player, Heldman is she is best known for founding the World Tennis magazine in 1953. Heldman promoted the women's game during the 1950s and 1960s, and worked with female tennis players to create a separate women's circuit in 1970. Many female players felt they were being demeaned both financially and attitudinally by the male-dominated tennis power structure. Gladys supported top players Billie Jean King and Rosie Casals, as well as her daughter Julie, and was able to convince the head of Philip Morris, Joe Cullman, to provide financial assistance. The first participants in the circuit, known as the "Houston Nine," played in the first Virginia Slims Circuit tournament in Houston in late 1970; the players prominently accepted $1 contracts from Heldman. The tournament was a success, and although the American players were temporarily suspended by the USTA, the Virginia Slims Circuit became so popular that it eventually merged with the USTA so that women could compete in the same tournaments as men and earn equal prize money.

Although, the Virginia Slims Circuit was an important part of women's tennis, Heldman soon sold her magazine to CBS Publications in 1972 and was out of tennis politics by the middle of the 1970's. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1979 as well as the National Tennis Hall of Fame and will always be remembered as the founder of the Virginia Slims Circuit. Heldman currently lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her husband.

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Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, by Joseph Siegman (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 2000)
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)