Women's History Month is a time when we reflect on women who have challenged expectations and been on the frontlines of change.
We have many such women in San Diego, but in the 1950's, North Park gave rise to one of the most influential tennis players of all time; Maureen Connolly. Long before Venus and Serena, even before Billie Jean King, North Park Daughter, Maureen Connolly was the tennis darling of 1951.
Born at Mercy Hospital in 1934, Connolly grew up learning to play tennis at the municipal courts around Idaho Street. At 11 years old, she was dubbed "Little Mo" by the local press, a nickname that stuck through her short career.
At 16, Connolly was the youngest ever go with the U.S. Championships, and at 19, the first woman to win all four Grand Slam tournaments during the same year.
Sadly, Connolly suffered a career-ending horse-riding accident in 1953, just before turning pro. Unable to compete professionally, Maureen turned her attention to a journalism career and exhibition matches. She and her husband were parents to two daughters, Cindy and Brenda, and "Little Mom" gave tennis lessons to children, including her own. Cindy went on to become a ranked collegiate player.
In the early 60's, the family relocated to Texas, where they started a restaurant business that grew exponentially over the years. In 1968, she and her good friend Nancy Jeffett co-founded the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation to provide funding for tennis clinics and juniors who could not afford to compete nationally.
Sadly, Connolly succumbed to cancer in 1969 at just 34 years old. In her short life she was trailblazer for women's tennis, a journalist, a businesswoman, author of two books, a television and radio personality, a co-founder of a foundation, and a mother.
“I’ve got everything I want. Everything I’ve had, I got through tennis. It gave me a terribly exciting life. I met so many people in exalted positions. It opened so many doors and it’s still opening them. I’ve had a wonderful life. If I should leave tomorrow, I’ve had the experience of 20 people.”– Maureen Connolly