America has never been without good female chess
January 31, 1827, Mrs. Fischer became one of the very few individuals to have beaten
Maelzel's Turk, operated by
Schlumberger, in Philadelphia. In New York on October 20, 1857,
Paulsen (the sister of Louis Paulsen, both temporary immigrants from
Germany) won a game from Judge Meek, one of America's better players.
Gilbert, in a correspondence game against J. W. Barry in 1875, announced
"mate in 18" and in a 1879 correspondence match against chess-master, George
Hatfeild Gossip, announced mated "mate in 35," while announcing "mate in 21" in
a separate game from that same match in which she won all her games. Gossip, in
turn, wrote an article in 1894 mentioning Nellie Showalter, the wife of the
American champion, Jackson Showalter:
"Mrs. Showalter, the wife of the
present American champion, whose portrait we give, is the present lady champion,
and although only twenty-two, has signalized herself by beating Lasker in a
match at the odds of a Knight by five to two games. In a subsequent match at
Kokomo, Ind., she easily defeated Mr. C.O. Jackson, drawing the first game and
winning the next three games right off. She also won a majority of games of Mr.
Arthur Peter, who took first prize in the "Free-for-all" Tourney at Kokomo. She
has now been challenged by Mrs. Worrall; but at present holds the title of
"queen of chess", abdicated by Mrs. Gilbert, of Hartford, Conn., who once
immortalized herself in the Correspondence Match America vs. England by
announcing a mate
in twenty-three moves in one game, and also a mate in eighteen in the other
companion game, to her astonished opponent across the Atlantic."
Showalter, in turn, played a match against Harriet Worrall, the widow of Thomas
Herbert Worrall, a one-time Knight's-odds opponent of Paul Morphy. Mrs. Worrall
played Morphy herself at Rook odds scoring -1=1. The Worrall-Showalter
match terminated unnaturally when Mrs. Showalter took ill, but Showalter's 3½-1½
lead indicated her superiority.
In 1902 Rhoda Bowles and Mrs. Frank W. Lynn of Chicago
both won simul games against Emanuel Lasker while in 1903, Rosa Jefferson of
Memphis beat Pillsbury during a 16 board blindfold simul.
Half-hearted attempts at establishing women's organizations and even a U. S.
women's championship occurred during those times. But they amount to little more
than wishful thinking and nothing much ever came from them
the plan for the 1937 Marshall Club women's tournament include hopes that
the winner would be the officially recognized leading woman player in the U. S.
and that, as such, would be sent to participate as America's representative
to the International Ladies Tournament in Stockholm, basically the women's world
championship, that summer. Those dreams were only partially realized.
Of the ten
women who participated in the 1937 Marshall Club women's tournament, six were
pre-qualified - the six contestants from the previous year: Mrs. Adele Rivero of
Manhattan, Mrs. Mary Bain of Astoria, N. Y., Mrs. Raphael McCready of
Hackensack, N. J., Mrs. William Slater of Doylestown, Pa., Miss Helen White of
New York City, and Miss Edith L. Weart of Jackson Heights, N. Y.
The four qualifiers were Miss Adele Raettig of Hoboken, N.J., Mrs. Wm. Davey of New York City, Mrs. Elsie Rogosin
of Roselle, N. J. and Miss Elizabeth Wray of New York City.
Unlkke the two previous years in which the Marshall
Club sponsored the tournament, the 1937 tournament was held under the auspices
of the National Chess Federation which had just sponsored the U. S.
Championship. Besides the Helen Allen Trophy, the winner would receive a gold
medal donated by Mr. H. M. Hartshorne. The second place prize was a beauty
kit donated by Mr. C. A. Pfeiffer.
- Once again, Adele Rivero
out-classed all the other participants with a near perfect score of 8½ - ½,
drawing only to second-placed Mary Bain. Miss Bain scored 7-1, having drawn
against Rivero and Kathryn Slater, but she had to forfeit her last game (against
Miss Weart) due to illness. Mrs. Raphael McCready came in third with a distant
- Adele Rivero was born in Belgium and "learned chess to disprove
her Spanish husband's assertion that women didn't have the brains for the game."
- Mary Bain was born in Hungary in 1904. She is said to have
drawn against Capablanca in a May 21, 1933 simul match (not a
blindfold simul, as is sometimes stated). (The story is that Capablanca resigned
on move 11, after which Bain offered him a draw which he accepted). Mary Bain
finally won the U. S. Women's Championship in 1951.
- Edith L. Weart, one of the weaker contenders, had her own
special place in this era of women's chess. Born in Jersey City, N. J. in 1897,
she studied chemistry at Oberlin College and only learned to play chess
at age 27. Weart contributed many of the Chess Review articles on women's chess.
Weart also compiled a "scrapbook" of articles and newspaper clipping outlining
and highlighting the women and their chess events of that time.
| Mrs. Wm.Davey vs.
Mrs. Mary Bain
Marshall Club Tournament, Spring 1937
| Mrs. Adele Rivero vs.
W. S. Kimbell
Informal tourney at the Marshall Club, September 1937
One of the plans for this
tournament was to decide on a women to represent the U. S. in the International
Ladies Tournament in Stockholm. Adele Rivero was unable to attend so Mary Bain
filled the position. There were 26 participants in the International Ladies
Tournament. Bain won 5th place, a half point behind Sonja Graff and a half point
ahead of May Karff. Vera Menchik, as usual, won the tournament by a wide
The other plan for the tournament
was to hopefully decide on an officially declared U. S. Women's Champion.
Although there seems to be a consensus that this tournament did decide the first
woman champion of the U. S., there is nothing to indicate that this was indeed
the case. In fact, all evidence points to the idea that nothing of the kind
Edith Weart, after the 1937
"As the tournament this year was
sponsored by the National Chess Federation. Mrs. Rivero now holds the title of
woman champion of that organization."
She never mentioned the U.S. championship title. It might be speculated that
since this was a National Chess Federation event, and since no one from
the American Chess Federation took part, that the title couldn't be justified.
But in the February 1938 issue of Chess Review, Weart wrote,
"Feminine chess takes a step
forward with the announcement by the National Chess Federation that a tournament
will be held in connection with the regular U. S. Championship tournament to
determine the U. S. Woman Chess Champion."
This was the first mention of a
definite women's title tournament, and the fact that Weart describes it as a
"step forward" indicates that the tournament to be held in 1938 would be the first time.
Also in the February 1938 issue of
Chess Review, Weart wrote:
Preliminaries of the annual tournament for custody of the Hazel Allen
Trophy started on Jan. 14 with fifteen entries, an unusually large number,
considering that nine players are seeded. Added interest is attached to
the preliminaries, because they serve as a qualifying tourney not only for
the Marshall C. C. Tournament, but, as well (for the New York area) for
the U. S. Women's Championship, The players on the exempt list will also be
seeded to play in the national tournament.
Exempt: Mrs. Adele Rivero (Woman Champion National Chess Federation),
Mrs. Mary Bain, Mrs. Wm. Davey,
Miss May Karff, Mrs. Raphael McCready, Mrs.
Kathryn Slater, Mrs. Elsie Rogosin, Miss Edith L. Weart, Miss Helen White.
There is no doubt that the 1938
tournament was to decide the U. S. women's champion. The preliminaries were held
in March 1938. The participants included:
Mrs. W. E. Jackson, Mrs. D. Willard, Mrs. C. Leo,
Fawns, Miss S. Svarti, Mrs. J. B. Kelley and Mrs. H. Leeds.
Mrs. E. Harrison, Miss M. Harmath, Mrs. I. Kashdan, Miss H. Ranlett, Miss L. Pfister, Miss D. Lesley,
Miss E. Wray and
Miss M. Peters.
After some of the seeded women dropped
out, the final list of ten contenders for the U. S. crown included:
Rivero, Mrs. Mary Bain, Miss May Karff, Mrs. Raphael McCready, Miss Edith L. Weart,
Miss Adele Raettig , Mrs. W. E.
Jackson, Mrs. Edna Harrison, Miss M. Harmath and Mrs. I. Kashdan.
tournament started on April 2nd and ended April 24th at
the R. C. A. Building in New York City. The first four places were tightly
contended. Mona May Karff (who was using the name N. May Karff) took first
place, winning 9 and drawing one of her games. Mary Bain lost won and drew
one, earning second place. Adele Rivero came in third (+7-2-1) in what seemed to
be an upset. Edith Weart, who came in 4th (+7-3), explained Rivero's situation:
We are not as surprised at this
showing as you probably are, for we knew the severe handicap under which she
entered the tournament - nervous and physical exhaustion from weeks of overwork.
We thought it showed in her play, especially in the later stages of her games.
usually presented as a nervous player whose anxiety level could be measured by
the amount of tissues she shredded in the course of a game. Her loses in the
1938 championship tournament were the first to any woman player in two years. In
fact, on May 20th, less than two weeks before the commencement of the
championship tournament, Mrs. Rivero played an eight-board simul at the
Providence (R. I.) Chess Club - "Playing against the strongest women in the
state, Mrs. Rivero made a clean sweep of the eight boards."
winning first place Miss Karff received possession of the Hazel Allen Trophy
and, as permanent property, a silver bowl donated by the committee. Mrs. Bain
also received a silver bowl. Mrs. Rivero and Miss Weart received a copy of
"Chessman" donated by Gustavus A. Phiffer. The prizes were presented by George
Emlen Roosevelt, a yachtsman, cousin of Theodore Roosevelt and president of the
Marshall Chess Club who additionally
recited a poem he had written, dedicated to the "Also Rans."
Mrs. Jean Moore Grau , woman champion of the American Chess Federation, who
was unable make the trip from her home in Muscatine, Iowa to New York to
participate in the tournament suggested a match between the winner of the
National tournament and herself at some mid-way point. Mrs. Karff was amenable
to the idea. Unfortunately, nothing ever seems to have become of the idea.
Anticlimactically, several of the
ladies were in an automobile accident on their way home from a chess-related
trip to Boston in the summer of 1938. Miss Weart suffered a broken shoulder,
while Mary Bain broke several vertebrae. Mrs. Raphael McCready didn't have any
serious physical injuries but suffered from trauma. 
Mrs .A. Rivero vs. Miss N. M. Karff
Women's U. S. Championship, 1938
information on Showalter, Worrall, Bowles, Lynn and Jefferson came from
Jerry Spinrad's article "Women in Chess"
2. Also from ""Women in
Chess," an article from The New York Times, Sept 1, 1895
"America has for several years
had such an organization, its members holding weekly meetings during seven
months of the year. In the Spring of 1893 a few women met informally and
organized what is now known as the "Women's Chess Association of America,"
their plan of organization being closely allied to that of the Manhattan Chess
Club of New-York. In January, 1894, they elected their officers, and
since that date they have had their weekly meetings at the Ladies' Club, 28
East Twenty-Second Street. Their roll of membership is at present
seventy-five, including a number of honorary members selected from among the
best women players in England and Ireland, the champion player of England,
Miss Mary Rudge, and Mrs. Rowland of Ireland being among the number. For three
years a game has been in progress between Mrs. Rowland and a member of the
American Association, and the issue is still uncertain. During the coming
Autumn, Winter, and Spring months the New York members of the association will
hold their weekly meetings in the spacious quarters of the woman's
Headquarters, 50 West Fifty-fifth Street."
Worrall-Showalter match, announced in the New York Times on June 3, 1894,
was touted as the first women's
championship of the United States.
Spinrad further notes:
"Mrs. Lynn came to New York for
what was billed as the first American women's chess congress in 1906.
The event must have been a disappointment; only three women entered the
"championship" section and six more in a general tournament (see: New York
Times, May 8, 1906), with Mrs. Lynn finishing second to
Mrs. Charles P. Frey, as reported in the Times of May 10, 1906.
Mrs. Burgess, who won the general tournament, beat Mrs. Frey in a match
4.5 - 1.5, according to the Chicago Tribune of Mar 10, 1907, and held the
title of US champion for some years after that; she is still called US women's
champion in an article in the Washington Post of Dec 3, 1916."
Eagle articles on the Showalter - Worrall match [game
3. According to
Chess Bitch by Jennifer Shahade. 2005. Siles Press. (pp. 219-20)
4. Adele Raettig
also played in the preliminaries for the U. S. Championship (played from March
10-28) in Section A
She scored 1 - 7 (8th out of nine contestants in
that section) [back]
5. In 1937 Jean
M. Grau won the Western Women's Tournament (the U. S. Women's Open) in
6. From Aug. 1938 Chess
The A. C. F. Congress (The U. S.
An unfortunate aftermath of the tourney was the accident which occurred to
Mary Bain, Mrs. McCready and Miss Weart. They were returning from Boston
during the rainy spell, and their car skidded o a slippery pavement, going
into a telegraph pole. The car overturned, pinning Miss Weart, who luckily
escaped with a fractured shoulder. Mrs. Bain suffered a fractured vertebra,
necessitating the wearing of a cast for several months. We do not know the
extent of Mrs. McCready's injuries, but we extend to all three ladies our best
wishes for their complete and early recovery.
The 1938 U. S. Women's Open in
Boston was won by N. May Karff. This was the first year that this tournament
was held in the East. One of the reasons for this was to give the American
Chess Federation (formerly the Western Chess Federation) credibility as a
national organization rather than a regional one.
Original source articles: