American Woman

 It seems like forever-ago, but it was only last Summer.  I had been reading about Frank Marshall, the Marshall Club and the foundation of the Official U.S. Chess Championship.  I was vaguely aware of the women's version to this, but knew very little of the details.  So, with a little help from my friends (OK, a whole lot of help) I researched that era of women's chess for several months and wrote about my findings in a rather detailed page with the catchy title, "The First Seventeen Years of Organized Women's Chess in America."


Rather curiously, just prior to that project, I had made a page, on a lark, that also examined women in chess entitled, "Love, Romance and Sex in Chess."  The curious element of this is that I have noticed that more people visit the latter site in a week than have visited the former site in toto.  It's curious, and it's rather sad. I don't mean it's sad because of the nature of human interest, but sad because the first site is really far more intriguing.  


The Championship site covers in detail such famous players as:


   Mona May Karff, who changed her name, for no apparent reason to N. May Karff and who was the long time lover of Edward Lasker, chess-master, go master and inventor of the breast pump, and who, in spite of anything anyone may have read to the contrary, was the first U.S. Women's Champion.


   Mary Bain, who was born in Hungary and was the first women to represent the U.S. in a Women's World Championship tournament (which Vera Menchick clearly won, but Mary Bain, along with 3 others had a close fight for second place, with Bain ultimately taking 5th).


   The elegant Gisela Kahn Gresser, who came from money, was well educated as a Greek scholar specializing in archaeological research, a painter and a sculptor and started playing chess only six years before winning the championship title.


There are also the lesser-known famous players such as:

  Nancy, or Nanny, Roos, formerly the Belgium Ladies' champion, who moved to New York, then to California where she could be found playing blitz chess in Herman Steiner's Hollywood Chess club and who co-won (with Gresser) the championship just a year and a half before her life was cut short by cancer.


The most lovely Adele Rivero who is often cited, incorrectly, as being the first U.S. women's chess champion.  When she could keep her nervous condition under control, she was simply unbeatable as she proved in the 1940 tournament that won her the title.  She played in the first and only Championship Match in which she got married the day before the match began (and Pearl Harbor was bombed on the last day of the match) - she lost miserably.  Adele Rivero went on play chess in Vermont, one time winning a 26 board simul +25=1.


As well as mostly unknown women players:


Marjorie Seaman  who won the first women's chess tournament hosted by the Marshall club with a perfect 11-0, even though her competitors included such talented players as Adele Rivero,  Mrs. B. W. McCready and  Miss Edith Weart. 


 Edith Weart who participated in and chronicled the early organized women's chess scene.


The persistent Adele Raetig who, although she beat the (male) Puerto Rican Champion one-on-one, was so disheartened after her performance in the 1940 tournament, when she was discovered buying a beginner's book on chess, she said humbly, "I thought I needed it."


Miss Rosemarie Fisher, former California beauty queen who moved to Milwaukee and became the strongest player, of either gender, in that city, and the Michigan women's champion. But never advanced because of Iowa's Mrs. Jean Grau who stopped her in her tracks.


It's was a great time in chess, clashing against the backdrop of the Second World War, with colorful individuals, lovely ladies and drama, such as the car crash returning to New York  from the U.S. Open in Boston, in which Mrs. McCready and Miss Weart suffered minor injuries and Mary Bain broke several vertebrae.


Is this an ad for my site?  You bet it is. 

But it's not in the least for my benefit.


  • 9 years ago


    Women -in general- are better than men. Remember what the say about Astaire and Rogers. In any case, men – in general – have always been afraid of women since the cave age. You all know the story. Etc.So, more power to all of you. TRUE.


  • 9 years ago


    That was lovely. I don't play actively anymore, but years ago when I played in tournaments, I noticed that there were very few female players. Oddly, this still seems to be the case.
  • 9 years ago


    Great Job! I firmly believe that neither sex would be very much without the other. History is important regardless of the sex. Of course that could be extrapolated to include other areas we typically use to discriminate.
  • 9 years ago


    I believe we all have learned,  preconceived or subconsciously-instilled notions that an entire lifetime can't erase.  As you say, not usually malicious ones, but still a part of our world-views and our personalities.  And that isn't to say there isn't some truth in such views but the danger seems more to be that they limit us by setting up artificial boundaries.  They are obstacles more than pitfalls.  It's so odd that women and men are basically the same with similar needs, desires and abilities, but those few differences radically define us and separate us.
  • 9 years ago


    When the US gymnastics team took gold at the Atlanta olympics, I watched in great interest. When it was over, I cried. I didn't bawl, but my eyes teared up a little. When asked why it was so emotional for me, I didn't answer aloud because the answer became clear to me. They were teenage girls, and in my mind teenage girls weren't supposed to take competition so seriously. And it was obvious these were athletes who had devoted 110% of their time to this achievement.

    It was the first time I realized I had a little sexism in me. Not necessarily in a malicious way, but probably not in a healthy way either.

    I have tried to correct this in myself, and yet I admit, there is still a bit of overgrown awe at women who succeed at the highest levels of competition. Partly because of a rudimentary understanding that they overcame more than just their fellow players.. but also certain stigmas of competitive women.

    But it is still partly just the feeling that competitive drive seems something a little out of place in women.

    It's the part of me that believes women are all sugar and spice... and yet I've met my share of women over the board that seemed all teeth and nails.

Back to Top

Post your reply: