In 1895 a group of women chess players formed a club known simply as the Ladies' Chess Club of London. It wasn't the first women's chess club in England - sixteen years earlier the Ladies' College Club, famous for the skills of Louisa Down and her daughters Florence and Nellie, played against other, exclusively male, clubs. However, it not only filled a void left by the earlier club, but far surpassed it in scope and influence.
As with any pioneering effort, the club started slowly and weakly and built up momentum and strength, eventually even providing the main thrust for the first Ladies' International Tournament in 1897. Here, I wanted to present some of the members of the club as well as it's development over the years.
Even though, at first, the ladies needed odds in order to compete with interest and they sometimes played against third and fourth class teams, the club proved remarkably active, playing at a pace of match a week for long stretches. They also invited notable guests, such as Leopold Hoffer, Rudlof Loman and HN Pillsbury to put on exhibitons, and they attended events at other clubs beyond their own busy schedule. Here I've presented the first year in some detail to illustrate the ladies' enthusiasm for the game as well as their determination.
The Ladies' Chess Club was formed at Bromptom in London with their first meeting -of 25 ladies- on January 14, 1895. Miss E. M. Burrell of 86, West Cromwell Road was named the club secretary and the club met at members homes until March 11 when it took quarters at 447, Strand, W.C.
Right away the club became an active organization, securing Leopold Hoffer to give a simulatenous display (April 22) against the ladies, giving some of them piece odds and still scoring +16=1-3. The ladies then organized a club tournament attracting 28 participants (4 divisions of 7 each).
On May 14, Thomas Physick was to give a simul at the London Chess Club, but took ill. C. J. Woon took his place. 8 of the 21 boards were occupied by members of the Ladies' Club who received knight-odds. Mrs. Rumboll and Misses Fox, Hooke and Wolf all won their games. (Woon scored +9=4-8).
The next week, on May 23, "the Ladies' Chess Club played a match with the third team of the Metropolitan Chess Club. The team consisted of fourteen players a-side, and the match was played at the Metropolitan head quarters, Mullen's Hotel, Ironmonger Lane, E.C. As a preliminary to the play the ladies were entertained to tea by the home club. Play began at 8 p.m., and each Metropolitan player had to yield the odds of a Kt to his fair opponent. From the first the sterner sex made headway, and at the close the Metropolitan won by 9 to 5."
CE Tucker -0 Miss Hooke -1
E Stiller -1 Miss Fox -0
HA Fitzmaurice -1 Miss Wolff -0
E Van Andel -1 Miss Burrell -0
W Dickinson -1 Miss Parsons -0
FWR Dewdney -1 Mrs Bowles -0
H Newman -1 Mrs Holmes -0
EB Puckeridge -0 Mrs Rumboll -1
G Wicks -0 Miss Wilkins -1
GE Parsons -½ Miss Eyre -½
GE Buxton -½ Miss Eastwick -½
H Johnson -1 Miss Parsons -0
RI Marsden -0 Mrs James -1
DJ Bolam -1 Mrs Brown -0
During the first general meeting on June 17, Lady Newnes was appointed president, Miss Burrell and Miss Wolff vice-presidents, Miss Hooke hon. treasurer and secretary, and Mrs. Bowles match captain and tournament secretary, with a strong representative committee.
The meeting was held at the home of Matilde Wolff (called Matilde Wolff van Sandau by the BCM) on 49, Elgin Crescent. Miss Wolff, who is generally credited with coming up with the idea for the Ladies' Chess Club, was a musician, both a pianist and a conductor who gave lessons out of her home. Here is an ad for her serices published in Musical Times, 1890:
MISS MATHILDE WOLFF (Pianist) visits and receives PUPILS for PIANO, HARMONY, COUNTERPOINT, &c.; holds Fortnightly Meetings for Practice of Concerted Chamber Music; accepts engagements for Concerts and At Homes. Will in September be open for Visiting Engagement at good school. For terms, apply to Miss M. Wolff, 49, Elgin Crescent, W.
The second match started on July 6 against Highsate, which ended in a draw, each side scoring 5. This was quickly followed by another one on July 13 against the St. George's Chess Club on St. James Street, which resulted in a win for St. George's by 5½ to Ladies 3½.
St. George's C.C. Ladies' C.C.
Rev. J. C. Chatto -1 Miss Finn -0
Mr. Shore -0 Miss Fox -1
Mr. Evill -1 Miss Sibthorpe -0
Mr. Malkin -1 Mrs. Manning -0
Mr. Sharpe -1 Mrs. Craig -0
Mr. Chepmell -½ Miss Field -½
Dr. Alderson -0 Miss Wilkins -1
Mr. Robinson -0 Miss Eyre -1
General M'Guire -1 Mrs. Bowles -0
Miss Fox's game with Mr. Shore:
The next week, July 27, the Ladies' Club played a another match, this time against the Hammersmith C.C, who won 10 to 3.
The great tournament of Hastings took up all chess activity in August. The ladies' tournament at Hasting was organized by Rhoda Bowles and won by Lady Thomas who received and ivory chess set and board . Miss Field (who later became Mrs. Donald Anderson) won second prize, while Miss Fox won third, Kate Finn won fourth. All were members of the Ladies' C.C. Harry Nelson Pillsbury won the main contest.
After Hastings, Pillsbury toured England. On the September 5 he was entertained by the Metropolitan Chess Club (Mr. Steinitz and M. Tschigorin were there too). Pillsbury played a fourteen board simul against members the Ladies' Chess Club, at Knight-odds (except Lady Thomas who played even) and won 11 games, drew 1 (with Mrs. Hulme), and lost 2 (to Miss Field and Miss Wilkins).
At some time in 1895 Rudolf Johannes Loman, the Dutch champion and noted blindfold player, dubbed by the BCM as the "Dutch Tschigorin," gave a blindfold exhibition against 6 members of the L.C.C. Here is his game with Mrs. Hulme, his only loss.
In October, the Ladies' C.C. moved to new headquarters at 103, Great Russell Street.
October was a busy month with a match nearly every week
-Oct. 5 Rochester 8, Ladies 4
-Oct. 12 Hampstead 6½, Ladies 3½
-Oct. 19 City of London Club (3rd class) tie 5-5
-Oct. 21 The ladies inaugurated their new headquarters by presenting both a blindfold and a simultaneous performances. "Miss Field was the blindfold performer, and Lady Thomas gave the exhibition of simultaneous chess. Miss Field had four opponents, and her play was fairly good, but unfortunately time did not allow of any of the games being completed. Lady Thomas' performance was also a great success. There was a large gathering, presided over by Lady Newnes, and the proceedings commenced with a musical programme."
-Oct. 28, "a team of lady chess players came up to town from Brighton and played a match against a team of the Ladies' Chess Club."
Ladies of Brighton Ladies Chess Club
Mrs. A. Smith -1 Miss Field -0
Miss Parkinson -1 Miss Finn -0
Miss M. Parkinson -½ Mrs. Hulme -½
Mrs. Sidney -0 Mrs. Fagan -1
Mrs. Johnson -1 Mrs. Philip Smith -0
Miss Grimwood -0 Mrs. Rumboll -1
Mrs. Bowles, Miss Gooding and Lady Thomas
The rest of the year, even being the Yuletide season, showed no let-up
-Nov. 29 - British Chess Club 7, Ladies' 5
-Dec. 2 - Lewisham 7, Ladies' 3
-Dec. 7 - Sydenham and Forrest Hill 7½, Ladies' 4½
-Dec. 16 - Upper Holloway 3, Ladies' 6
-Dec. 19 - St. George's 7½, Ladies' 2½
The Ladies' Chess Club: early years
Little Mother, Part 1
Little Mother, Part 2
Madame Ludovici of Wiesbaden
HN Pillsbury vs. MR. Rhoda Bowles
Pillsbury and the Ladies
Houlding, Herring and Sidney
Some Turn-of-the-Century Ladies
Miss Nellie Down and the Devil