Trish Bostrom, still sharp as a stiletto at 72, moves decisively through a day at her law office in downtown Seattle, Washington — chatting genially with prospective clients, researching and drafting cleverly crafted documents, wrestling with probate problems.
These days, she specializes in real estate, estate planning and corporate law. One area she now tends to avoid is litigation.
“Not so much anymore,” Bostrom said from her Mercer Island, Washington home, “because it requires you to be here all the time.”
Which, of course, might prevent her from annual visits to some of her favorite stomping grounds — Indian Wells, Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Yes, Patricia Lynn Bostrom was once a world-class tennis player.
The funny thing? Her experiences, the challenges of climbing up the ladder, from high school to college to the professional ranks, had a big hand in sending her into the profession of law.
“Professional tennis players tend to set extraordinarily high goals,” Bostrom said. “I’m from Seattle, where it rains all the time. Despite that, I set a goal of playing at Wimbledon and the other Grand Slam tournaments. And we had no indoor courts to practice on until I was 16 years old.
“When I was in high school, there were not a lot of women in law and medicine. I set those as my goals, but then I realized that I did not like [the sight of] blood. Medicine wasn’t going to be the place for me, so I decided to study law.”
Sorry, boys only
Growing up on the west side, Bostrom fell in love with tennis. Her father, Al, was a gifted international handball player and she clearly inherited his unnatural hand-eye coordination and maybe some of his drive.
By the time she reached Chief Sealth High School in the mid-1960s, Bostrom’s skill level was high. Still, she worked really hard to improve her game.
“I practiced with the boys’ team, worked out and did all the drills,” Bostrom said. “I could beat them, but they wouldn’t let me play because I was a girl.”
In her junior year, she wrote a letter to public school administrator Frank Inslee, whose son Jay is the current governor. She included her northeast ranking, adding that she trained with the team and was more than competitive with other members.
“It’s called the Chief Sealth tennis team, not the Chief Sealth boys’ tennis team,” Bostrom wrote at the time. “I just want to play on the team.”
She got a short, polite letter back.
“Sorry, Trish,” Inslee wrote, “the tennis team is only for boys.”
Understandably, Bostrom was disappointed.
“This isn’t fair, this isn’t right,” Bostrom said. “And so, inequity started very early for me.”
Sleeping on the floor
Bostrom had reason to be excited when she matriculated to the University of Washington in 1969. The Huskies had a men’s and women’s varsity tennis team, but this was in the days before Title IX mandated equal treatment for both genders in college sports.
The men had a decorated head coach, who had played on the professional circuit. They had scholarships, uniforms and an abundance of equipment — including all the tennis balls they needed. If they qualified for the national championships, they attended, all expenses paid.
“They flew to their matches,” Bostrom said, “we drove in a car. New tennis balls were scarce. They slept in hotels. And found their own alternative lodging arrangements, which sometimes resulted in sleeping bags on the floors of kind hosts.”
The disparity gnawed at her — because it felt just like high school. Her father mentioned her struggles after playing handball with an attorney friend named Don Cohan. He suggested she come visit him at his office.
She explained the many discrepancies between the programs and said she wanted equitable programs for the women — and the ability to try out for the men’s team until the programs were equitable.
Cohan leaned across his desk, smiled and said, “Trish, I’ll take your case for free.”
The lawsuit was launched in 1971 and the women’s athletic director begged her to stand down. “Don’t rock the boat,” she said.
Bostrom, not surprisingly, didn’t listen.
Cohan, good litigator that he was, asked for a pre-trial conference. There were 14 men — including the Huskies’ athletic director, various deans and vice presidents — in the room. Cohan detailed Bostrom’s basic demands.
At the end of the meeting, one of the vice presidents mused, “What can you really do to us if we don’t give you what you want?”
Cohan smiled and said, “We’ll bring an injunction against the University of Washington, enjoining them from participating in any NCAA athletic competitions — including football.”
The present-day Bostrom laughed. “The room went quiet. We heard from the University of Washington two weeks later. They said, `Trish, you were right, we were wrong. The women’s athletic programs are horribly underfunded.”
Bostrom went on to win the 1972 PAC-8 singles title and the national mixed doubles crown as a senior and, when women’s professional tennis started to boom, decided to put off her legal education for a few years.
Offering an alternative
Today, the WTA Tour is the most lucrative arena for female professional athletes. The annual Forbes list of top-paid female athletes in 2022 saw seven tennis players ranked among the Top 10 — and six in the top seven.
In 1972, the women pros were split into two competing tours and with meager prize money it was difficult to sustain a life on the road. For Bostrom, the flight from Seattle to London could approach four figures. And with a first-round loss at Wimbledon paying about $300, it was no wonder most women also played doubles and mixed doubles to make ends meet.
“For the men, it was around $900,” Bostrom said. “That covered their airfare. There was additional pressure, I believe, on the women in order to maintain being on the tour.
“Some of the women would play on the circuit, run out of money, then go and teach tennis, make enough money to come back and try again.”
Before Wimbledon, Billie Jean King offered an alternative in a tense gathering at the Gloucester Hotel in London. She asked her colleagues for $250 each to establish the Women’s Tennis Association.
“That was a lot of money at the time,” Bostrom said. “There were many people in that room, especially the eastern-bloc players, that didn’t participate because they were controlled by their federations. But we needed 60 players — and we got 60. The WTA was essentially underwritten by the U.S. players and those from western Europe.”
She would go on to play in King’s World Team Tennis for five years and ultimately reached a career-high singles ranking of No.37 and No.5 in doubles. Bostrom advanced to at least the quarterfinals in three of the four majors and in 1977, playing with Mary Carillo, defeated King and Karen Sussman in doubles on Centre Court, Wimbledon. Her parents and friends were in the stands that day and that three-set triumph was the high-water mark of her career.
More work to do
Bostrom was on hand this summer when the WTA Tour celebrated its 50th anniversary with a day of festivities in London. There was a breakfast, where 13 of the original 60 players who ratified the charter caught up, clearly delighted to see each other. There was a double-decker bus ride through the heart of the city to the Gloucester Hotel.
The memories, Bostrom said, came surging back.
One of the great breakthroughs in 1973 was the upgrade in housing. Previously, it was a room in a windowless basement of a bed and breakfast that cost six pounds a week. Now, if you were in the main draw, you got a free room at the Gloucester; if you lost, you had to leave the next day. Not insignificantly — thanks to the insistence of King — the US Open would award the men’s and women’s winners with equal paychecks, a first at the Grand Slams.
There was a dinner that night at the All England Club, where the fresh flowers were already in place for the coming fortnight. Bostrom particularly enjoyed speaking with the junior players who attended the gala.
It didn’t seem like it at the time, but the WTA Tour’s struggle for equal prize money presaged an issue still prevalent in society today.
“Those women were really the forerunners for the issue of equal pay for all women,” Bostrom said. “And so the notion that equal pay for women morphed out to all different areas in our society. We’re still not there. In the U.S. women still make 80 cents on the dollar — it used to be 70 cents, so we’ve made some improvement. In Washington State, there’s now equal pay for women in government jobs.”
Now into her eighth decade, Bostrom is still an active traveler. She’s planning to attend Roland Garros this year, spend a few weeks in Paris and head back to Wimbledon. But there’s been one concession to age. She played right-handed professionally, but a wrist injury forced her to adapt.
Today, still adapting to adverse circumstances, she plays left-handed and is a 2.5 player on the NTRP/USTA scale.