March 19, 2021
By Nick Madden, Naturalist at Bellevue State Park
Does the name Margaret Osborne ring a bell to you? For those familiar with tennis, this Californian woman was the Serena Williams of her time. She conquered courts around the globe from the 1940s-1960s and her mark still lives on today! Right now, Margaret is fourth in the world for most Grand Slams Titles, tallying 37, and currently holds the all-time record for winning the most major US Open Titles. The next highest female player has 18 wins, and the closest male is at 16. Margaret has 25.
Her accomplishments are truly awe-inspiring, but how does Margaret fit into our story here at Bellevue State Park? Well, as an avid tennis fan himself, and with the family name supporting him, William Dupont Jr. was able to spend much of his spare time mingling with the best of the best. As Margaret’s career gained momentum around 1940, their introduction was inevitable. She would later reminisce to the El Paso Times in ’98 that “He loved tennis. He was always playing and watching.”
Though we know Margaret played in the Delaware State Women’s Grass Court Championship of 1944 and ’45, information about her relationship with William is rare until 1947 when the two married. It was then that Margaret officially became a member of the famous DuPont family, et voila! Her story enters ours when she travels from California to Delaware and moves into her new home: Bellevue Hall.
Margarets rise into aristocracy had her dining with the elite and living a life of wishes come true, in true DuPont splendor. But…who made these wishes, Margaret or William? “I was never impressed by the DuPont name,” she told the El Paso Times, “and I still don’t”. Wealth and splendor were never her priority; that honor belonged to tennis. Tennis became her priority when she began playing as a kid and solidified when she reached number 7 in the world right out of high school. So, marrying a DuPont, let alone the President of Delaware Trust, was not about to derail her aspirations (though it was nice that her new home had beautiful indoor and outdoor courts at her fingertips).
The same year she married William, Margaret ranked No. 1 female tennis player in the world and would remain there for the next 3 years. She was in her prime, conquering the tennis world year after year until only one title remained, the Grand Slam yet to be played: The Australian Open. Those who knew of Margaret’s talent would agree that she could thrive in Australia. Her accolades were proof, her momentum was strong, and most of all, Margaret was ready to play…but sadly, she never would. Not once.
You see, though he supported her tennis endeavors wholeheartedly, records indicate William kept his wife from playing in Australia, even at the peak of her career. The trip was too long, too far, and the aging William was not up for the journey. So, she was requested to accompany him in California every Winter (Australia’s summer) instead. The request crushed her, but she could not refuse.
Margaret kept on playing, she was still revered, still strong, and once spring came, her earnings continued (though they were far less substantial to what men earned, or to what modern-day players earn). Some aspect in her life was making her unhappy, though. It was something she was tired of hiding despite knowing exposure could mean the end of her career. She needed someone to confide in to talk deeply about life with…someone who wasn’t William. Instead, she chose a doubles partner of hers, Margaret Varner (we’ll refer to her as Varner). As someone who was arguably closer with Margaret than William was, Varner made Margaret feel comfortable, and proved more than trustworthy, but also understanding. You see, she and Margaret shared the same secret.
When not advancing her own athletic career, Varner worked here at Bellevue, acting as Williams’s secretary as well as the tutor for Margaret and Williams’ son, William III. Being on-site together provided ample time for these tennis players to spend together and become great friends – their relationship, however, was arguably more than friendly. Rumor has it that William eventually uncovered their affection, and in response, banished his wife to the Playhouse (which is now ironically the Tennis Center).
Margaret played her final professional tennis match 1962 at Wimbledon, where she took home the mixed doubles win. Two years later, she filed for divorce, and moved out of Bellevue Hall with their 13-year-old son William III – Margaret stayed close by, though, so her son was still near his father.
Unfortunately, William passed away just a year later, and, now that her ties to the East Coast were dissolved, Margaret moved away the following year. She spent the rest of her life with Varner (divorced) in El Paso, Texas, where they owned and ran Dupont-Varner Stables, and raised horses like Tennis Star, Super Set, Court Shot, and Net Effect. In 2012, at the age of 94, Margaret Osborne Dupont passed away in her El Paso home. Today, she is still a beloved figure to tennis players around the world, as well as our world here at Bellevue State Park.