In the 1890s women's chess in England, as in most places, was considered nearly inconsequential. To bring this arena to the forefront required dedication, energy and persistance. It so happened that many women who had those requirements and were willing to apply them towards chess also had blood relatives or husbands who were also devoted to the game. One of the most energetic, dedicated, persistant and effective promoters of women's chess in England during it's infancy, was Mrs. Rhoda A. Bowles.
In it's review of the 1897 Ladies' International Chess Congress, the BCM wrote: Mrs. Bowles (hon. sec. of the Ladies' Chess Club) has rendered a great service to the cause of chess by organising this splendid Tournament. It is less than five years ago that enforced leisure, consequent upon the recovering from an illness, afforded her the opportunity of learning the moves of chess, and having mastered the elementary principles she became at once a great enthusiast of the game. She joined the Ladies' Chess Club, then newly formed, and at once took an active part in its development. For. the past two years she has been either its match captain, its secretary, or its treasurer, occupying indeed all three positions for the last twelve months. The members of the club are so perfectly satisfied with her labours on their behalf that they have left her no alternative but to continue her work, though the task is almost beyond her strength. We have already referred to her inception of the idea of a Jubilee International Ladies' Tournament, but the amount of work she has got through in carrying her idea into effect is simply prodigious. Not less than 2,000 letters have been written by her own hand during the last twelve months in connection with the Tournament, and this in addition to her other chess work. She is full of good chess ideas, and has played many bright games, but her opportunities for actual play are restricted, owing to the pressure of her chess work in organising and managing the club and the Tournament. She won the third prize in the second class of the Ladies' Tournament, at Hastings. We heartily congratulate Mrs. Bowles on the success of her spirited endeavours to prove that women can play chess. We delight in every forward movement of the game, and we are sure that the arousing of feminine interest in chess will tend to keep many a male chess votary true to his love for the game, who under other circumstances might have passed out of the ranks. The Tournament has been held, it has been a success, and it marks an epoch in the game, and we dare to say will not be the last of its kind. In planning, organising, and carrying out this unique chess tournament, Mrs. Bowles has done a good service to the game.
The following is a good specimen of Mrs. Bowles lively style of play-
As seen above, Mrs. Bowles was in part instumental in the formation and development of the Ladies' Chess Club of London, which, in turn, promoted women's chess in England. Also, the passage above tells how Mrs. Bowles partook in the famous Hastings Tournament in 1895. It doesn't mention several things about her participation.
According to the tournament book by Horace F. Cheshire:
Then there was a Ladies' Tournament, which was kindly managed by a Ladies' Committee, consisting of Mrs. Gunsberg, London, and Mrs. Baird, Brighton, with Miss Watson, Hastings, and Mrs. Bowles, London.
An incident that Mrs. Bowles later related (as published in the BCM in 1987):
Among my earliest chess recollections I recall a pathetic scene at Hastings during the 1895 Congress. I had just arrived from London, and on the stairs leading to the hall of play I met poor Steinitz, who upon seeing me, burst into tears and said, 'Oh. Madam Bowles what shall I do?' he said. 'I have just lost my game to Lasker, and that is my fourth successive loss, I shall never win again. even my own pupil, young Pillsbury, has beaten me and I cannot sleep at night; for three nights have I tossed and tumbled, but sleep is denied me,I am utterly broken down.' And he wept. I felt a big lump in my throat, but I tried to cheer him, and begged him to go home and go to bed, even if he could not sleep. He thanked me, but went away with a sad heart, promising, however, to take my advice. I was up betimes the next morning, and when he entered the hall I was waiting with a buttonhole, which I pinned in his coat, telling him that I had come to turn his luck, and should expect him to win that day.
Steinitz then went on to beat Curt von Bardeleben in one of the most celebrated games in history.
Above: Some members of the Ladies' Chess Club with those of the Cambridge Chess Team
Caption read: Just a little souvenir of the chess fortnight at Southport. To those in the group, and many others who joined them, bright recollections will arise of enjoyable picnics, whist drives, bowls parties, &c, which were indulged in outside the official programme. I am indebted to Mr. Frank Streather, a chess amateur photographer, for this, one of many capital picture postcards he was kind enough to take.
the BCM in 1903 tells us:
The fifth annual match, Oxford and Cambridge Universities versus the American Universities, was played on March 27th and 28th, at the Criterion Restaurant, Piccadilly Circus, London, and at the Athletic Association, Boston, Mass., U.S.A. . . . The tellers included Mrs. Rhoda A. Bowles, Messrs. C. E. C. Tattersall (Camb.) J. E. Wright (Camb.), F. W. Clarke (Camb.), E. Paice (Oxford), and E. A. Michell (Oxford). The centre of the hall had six tables arrranged for the public to " crowd " and watch the various moves made in the games, which were kept up to date by Mr. H. L. Bowles.
Mrs. Rhoda A. Bowles
related blog entries:
Little Mother, Part 1
Women Can Play Chess!