Helen Wills Moody ’26

Nicknamed “Little Miss Poker Face” for her deadpan expression on the tennis court, Wills was anything but impassive. A force to be reckoned with, she ruled the game in the 1920s and ’30s, counting two Olympic golds, eight Wimbledon singles titles, and seven U.S. National Championship titles among her stunning wins. But her interests far surpassed tennis. She was a novice poet and painter, and eventually found herself in the path of muralist Diego Rivera. She posed for the central figure in Rivera’s “Allegory of California,” but the mural drew heated criticism for using the face of a real woman to represent California. In his autobiography My Art, My Life, Rivera defended his choice: “…she seemed to represent California better than anyone I knew — she was intelligent, young, energetic, and beautiful.” At the end of her life, Wills gave $10.5 million to Berkeley to establish the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. In making her gift, she said, “What university has a better reputation in research than Berkeley? We can find the answers to why we are the way we are, and gain a better understanding of who we are.”

Comments are closed.