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Women’s History Month

All-Star #1: Ora Mae Washington

Women’s History Month

All-Star #1: Ora Mae Washington

A governor. The world’s first computer programmers. Lawyers, doctors, writers, artists and activists. Philadelphia’s history is full of incredible, history-making women whose stories, unfortunately, are often all but missing from the history books.

It shouldn’t take a dedicated month—Women’s History Month—to recognize the contributions of these heroines. But in honor of the occasion, we scoured history to find several badass Philly women to celebrate for our Women’s History Month All-Stars.

RELATED: A cadre of visionary women are behind Guild House Hotel—a newly opened boutique hotel that celebrates the history residing in our buildings by giving props to the early feminists who initially occupied the property.

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Ora Mae Washington

Athlete

Ora Mae Washington

Athlete

1899-1971

Ora Mae Washington started playing tennis at the Germantown YMCA and went on to become the first African-American athlete to dominate not one, but two sports—both of which were segregated at the time.

Washington won her first national tennis championship just a year after picking up a racket. Then she found a calling on another kind of court: basketball.

She earned a spot on the Philadelphia Tribunes, one of the most dominant women’s basketball teams in history, in 1932. She helped them win 10 straight Women’s Colored Basketball World Championships.

Through all of the glass ceilings she shattered as a female African-American athlete, she still had to work as a domestic worker cleaning homes to support herself after her athletics career ended.

She was inducted into the Black Athletes Hall of Fame in 1976, into Temple University’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1986, and in 2009 she was elected to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, and in 2018 to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS

  • Won her first national title in tennis in 1925
  • Held the American Tennis Association title from 1929-1936
  • Won additional 12 doubles titles during her career
  • Won female national title in 1930 with Germantown Hornets
  • Inducted into the Black Athletes Hall of Fame in 1976
  • Inducted into Temple University Sports Hall of Fame in 1986
  • Inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009
  • Inducted into the Haismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018


FINAL WORDS: At the time of her induction to the Basketball Hall of Fame Sports Illustrated writer Charles Pierce called her  “one of the greatest female athletes the country ever has produced.”

Reporting by Courtney DuChene, with additional reporting by Isabel Mehta.

Photo by John W. Mosely / Temple University Libraries / Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, CC0

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