Thanks to internet sleuth nonpareil Cliff Mills, an interesting but little-known connection has come to light between the Philippines and an American tennis giant. The latter was none other than Dwight F. Davis (1879-1945), who was Governor General of the Philippines from 1929 to 1932. (Unfortunately, during his tenure I was a bit too young to hit with him or to otherwise benefit from his court expertise.) Davis ranks as a tennis giant in large part because he was the founder of the Davis Cup international tennis competition. The extremely brief — actually, skeletal — outline of his record below to introduce this topic is from Wikipedia; it is followed by two 1929 Manila newspaper articles (unearthed by Cliff Mills, himself a tennis enthusiast); and then by somewhat more detailed coverage of Davis’ background and history to round out this historical footnote.
Dwight Filley Davis Sr. was an American tennis player and politician. He is best remembered as the founder of the Davis Cup international tennis competition. He was the Assistant Secretary of War from 1923 to 1925 and Secretary of War from 1925 to 1929.
Born: July 5, 1879, St. Louis, MO
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Died: November 28, 1945, Washington, D.C.
Children: Alice Brooks Davis
Place of burial: Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA
Organizations founded: Davis Cup, American Legion
Previous offices: Governor-General of the Philippines (1929–1932)
[Webmaster’s note: The Manuel Barredo mentioned in the above articles was married at that time to my aunt, Josephine Johnson, daughter of Alvah Eugene Johnson, who was interned and died in STIC]
THE DAVIS RECORD. Given the fact that Governor General Davis was — according to the articles above — still playing an excellent game of tennis in 1929-1932, it is worth pointing out that this was noteworthy on at least two counts. In the first place, Davis was over 50 at that time, and 50 nearly a century ago was not at all comparable to 50 today (as some might say, today’s 50 is the new 30). Second, there was no such thing as professional tennis when Davis was in his tennis prime — after college (he attended Harvard) one either continued in the amateur ranks, or ceased to play highest-level competitive tennis, and the latter is the course Davis pursued. Thus a brief review of his record, in tennis and otherwise, is called for in order to make it possible to fully appreciate the import of the preceding account.
Dwight F. Davis was born in July 1879, in St. Louis, Missouri, where both a grandfather and a cousin of his had served as mayors of the city in the 1850s and 1860s. The Davis family being well-to-do, he learned to play tennis at an early age and, while a student at Harvard (and of course a member of the Harvard tennis team), he won the intercollegiate singles championship in 1899. Much more significantly, he twice reached the All Comers singles final (1898 and 1899) at the U.S. Championships (now called the U.S. Open). Additionally, for three years in a row (1899-1901) he and his partner, Holcombe Ward, won the U.S. doubles title; and they were also runners-up for the Wimbledon doubles title in 1901. Davis participated — without success in either singles or doubles — in the 1904 Olympics. Coincidentally, that event was held in St. Louis; it was only the third Olympiad, and the first one held outside of Europe (after Athens and Paris).
Davis’ most noteworthy tennis achievement by far — indeed, one of lasting historical significance — occurred during that same time period. In 1900, to quote Wikipedia, he “developed the structure for, and donated a silver bowl to go to the winner of, a new international tennis competition . . . known as the International Lawn Tennis Challenge, which was later renamed the Davis Cup in his honor.” Moreover, he was “a member of the US team that won the first two competitions in 1900 and 1902, and was also the captain of the 1900 team.” In recognition of his accomplishments, as both player and administrator, in 1956 Davis was inducted into the National Tennis Hall of Fame, now known as the International Tennis Hall of Fame (regrettably, this came well after his death in 1945). He also has been honored with a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
No doubt believing that he had better things to do than become a full-time tennis player, and since professional tennis did not exist, Davis returned home and resumed his education, this time at the Washington University Law School in St. Louis. He did not become a practicing attorney, but he was active in St. Louis civic life; indeed, as the city’s Public Parks Commissioner in 1915-1916, he established the first municipal tennis courts in the U.S. Then, after the U.S. entered “The Great War” in 1917, he served in the U.S. Army. In France he was commissioned as a Major, became Adjutant of the 69th Infantry Brigade of the 35th Infantry Division, and eventually was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. After the war he served as a Colonel in the Army Reserves.
In light of his military record, it is not surprising that, under President Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge in the 1920s, he served first as Assistant Secretary of War and then as Secretary of War. (When Silent Cal’s death was announced, one wag asked “How can they tell?”) In 1929 President Herbert Hoover (or, as announcer Harry von Zell once introduced him with an all-time flub, “Hoobert Heever”) appointed Davis to be Governor General of the Philippines, in which position he served until 1932. Then, after Pearl Harbor, in February 1942 he was made Director General of the hastily-created Army Specialist Corps, a uniformed branch of civilian specialists who were ineligible for active duty due to age or physical infirmity. When it was later decided that such specialists (of whom notable examples included actor Maurice Evans and bandleader Glenn Miller) should be commissioned directly into the Army, the ASC was disbanded in November 1942. Davis then became an advisor with the rank of Major General. In his 60s, therefore, Davis did his part in contributing to the war effort that eventually liberated the Philippines and defeated the Nipponese Empire.
Finally, on the personal side, Davis’ first wife, Helen Brooks, whom he married in 1905, died in 1932; he remarried in 1936, to Pauline Sabin. He had two daughters, and both of them married high-ranking officials — Alice Brooks Davis married the British ambassador to the U.S. (Sir Roger Makins), and Cynthia Davis married by far the longest-serving (1951-1970) U.S. Federal Reserve Director (William McChesney Martin, Jr.). Dwight Davis died at his home in Washington, D.C., in November 1945, after a six-month illness, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He was only 66 years old; and, although that was not particularly unusual at the time, it accentuates the fact that, as previously pointed out, he was still playing a good game of tennis in his 50s — and in so doing he was helping to win Filipinos’ good will while serving as Governor General of the Philippines.
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