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Game, set, Mary Slaughter

The ACC’s first woman varsity athlete played men’s tennis here

Tennis player Mary Slaughter (Educ ’54) made history in 1954. She was the first woman to play a varsity sport at UVA and the first woman to compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference. For Slaughter, there was another personal first: She got to play on an actual team.

Mary Slaughter
Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, UVA

“Since women didn’t have any teams at all, I never got this idea of team spirit or playing for the team,” says Slaughter, who earned a varsity letter during her second year. “That was probably one of the best parts.” 

Slaughter doesn’t remember donning a team uniform—just the usual tennis whites. But she does recall, even as the only woman, the camaraderie with teammates during matches and the pride of being part of something bigger. “Even though it was an individual sport, you still watched everybody because you were adding up the points as you go along,” she says.

Slaughter’s second season would be her last at UVA; the ACC told her that she and other women couldn’t compete. It would be another two decades before women would get teams of their own at UVA, thanks to coeducation and Title IX. Today, female athletes play on UVA’s 14 women’s teams, earning honors and championships from the league that ended Slaughter’s UVA career not that long ago. 

Despite the roadblock, for Slaughter, the memories are good. Of her matches, she says, “I don’t think I lost very much. I don’t think I lost very much at all. It may have been just sheer fear, but it was fun.”