American Woman - Part II

American Woman - Part II

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     An official U.S. Women's Chess Championship has existed for nearly 80 years.  The USCF lists 1937 as the first year.  There have been many strong and important women players over the early years but when Diane Savereide appeared and dominated the women's chess arena for almost a decade, women's chess stated taking monumental strides. 

     With this series of essays I hope to detail at the development of women's chess in the United States and memorialize the ladies who pioneered that initial progress between 1937 and 1975 when Savereide won her first championship.

|  Part I  |  Part III  |  Part IV  |  Part V  |  Part VI  Part VI |


     In 1942 the U.S. Women's Championship reverted back to a tournament format.  This year's contest took place in April at the Hotel Astor in Manhattan.

N. May Karff...................8-0
Adele (Rivero) Belcher..6-2
Nancy Roos....................6-2
Gisela Gresser...............5½ 2½
Mary Bain.......................4-4
Mathilda Harmath.........2½-5½
Elizabeth Wray...............2½-5½
Adele Raettig..................1-7
Celia Fawns..................½-7½

      We see again Celia Fawns who was born in Perry Sound, Ontario in 1906 and moved to Manhattan with her older sister Olivia in 1919 and who played in the early Marshall Club tournaments. Although this was her only venture into Women's Championship, Miss Fawns was active in the Manhattan C.C. from the middle 1930s until at least the late 1940s. 

Adele Belcher playing Celia Fawns under the gaze of Nancy Roos


Gisela Gresser in the foreground with Mathilda Harmath right beside her.

     Belcher lost this first round game.  She gained her stride but too late.


Karff Holding her prize


     The 1944 U.S. Women's Championship was played in April-May at the Park Central Hotel on 7th Ave. in New York.  It was the first of Margaret Gisela Kahn Gresser's  record 8 national titles.  Gresser, who was born to wealthy parents in Detroit in 1906,  was also the first native-born American to win the title.

Mrs.Gisela Gresser..........8-0
Miss N. May Karff............7-1
Miss Kate Heschel.............5-3
Miss Adele Raettig............?
Mrs. Nancy Roos...............?
Miss Wally Henschel...........?
Miss Mildred Peters .........?
Miss Elizabeth Wray..........?
Mrs. Maude M. Stephens..?

William Gresser and Nancy Roos

     William Gresser, born in 1896, was a corporate attorney who received his Doctor of Law degree from Harvard and was a partner in the law firm of Gresser, Starr and Walker. He was also a trained musician (a pianist) and trustee of the New York College of Music. He died in 1982. He and Gisela married in 1927.


N. May Karff, Kate Henschel and Nancy Roos



Gresser holds the Chess Review Trophy.


     Two new participants  qualified for the 1944 tournament were the twin sisters Wally Henschel and  Käthe or Kate Henschel.  They were born in Hamburg in 1893.  Despite the results of this tournament, Wally was generally considered the better player.  She had participated in two Women World Chess Championships:   in Hamburg 1930, she placed 3/5 (+4-3=1), defeating Menchik in one of their 2 their individual games;  in Prague 1931, she placed 5/5 (+2-6). The same participants (Vera Menchik, Paulina Wolf-Kalmar, Katarina Beskow, Agnes Stevenson and Wall Henschel) played in both events. The only other two women ever to defeat Menchik in her lifetime were Sonja Graf (3/23) and Edith Price of England (4/14). Wally's result was 1/4.
     Wally was a trained musician who studied at the Bernuthsche Konservatorium from which she graduated in 1909. She follow up with years of intense piano and voice instruction. In 1927 she earned to certificate to teach voice and in 1929 she was state certified as an opera performer. During the 1930s she was employed by the Jewish Temple and additionally gave singing and piano instructions.  Käthe, on the other hand, held a more mundane position as a secretary.
     Having faced the growing restrictions  of Jews in Nazi Germany, after Kristallnacht, Nov. 9-10, 1938, the sisters began planning their escape. They finally left Germany in March, 1939 and arrived in New York months later after a long and dangerous route via Netherlands,/England/West India/Central America/Haiti.
     Relocating to America proved disastrous. Wally found it impossible to establish herself as musician or music teacher and the sisters were reduced to living off their cousin for four years.  Wally had also gone blind in one eye and was losing sight in the other.  Käthe, now Kate, eventually found secretarial work  while Wally opened a boarding house.  Somewhat established in 1944, they joined in the New York chess scene, entering the championships into the 1950s.  Wally died in 1988 and Kate lived until 1990.
     Wally Henschel's win over Vera Menchik:



     The 1946 U.S. Chess Championship took place at the Chanin Auditorium on 42nd St. between Oct. 26 and Nov. 16.  The women played only on Saturdays and Sundays. Caroline Marshall was the T.D., assisted by Edith L. Weart.

N. May Karff.........8½-½
Mary Bain.............7½-1½
Gisela Gresser......6½-2½
Dr. Weissenstein..6-3
Catherine Nye......4-5
Kate Henschel......3-6
Kathryn Slater......3-6
Wally Henschel.....2-7
Adele Raettig........2-7
Mrs. McCready....1½-7½

both clippings from "Chess Life" 1946


     The only new face we see is that of Catherine Nye.  Due to personal tragedy -her son who was stationed in Germany after the war was accused of murdering a German girl-  her participation wasn't assured.  Mrs. Carl Nye was President of the NY State Chess Association
She was born in 1907 and died in 1980. She was better known for her organizational skills than her skill over-the-board.

     A clipping from Herman Helms November 7, 1946 column in the "Brooklyn Daily Eagle" -


     The 1948 U.S. Women's Championship took place in South Fallsburg, N.Y. between  August 23-31.   Once again, Carrie Marshall was the T.D. while Edith Weart acted as assistant TD.

Gisela Gresser....6½-½
N. May Karff........6½-½
Mary Bain............4-3
Lina Grumette...3½-3½
Lucille Kellner.....2½-4½
Adele Raettig.......2-5
Mary Selensky.....1-6
Elizabeth Wray....1-6

     Three meet new participants in 1948: Lina Grumette, Mary Selensky and Lucille Kellner.

     Mary Selenky of Doylestown, Pa. was the Pennsylvania Women's Champion.  Although her name appears as a finalist in the 1941 Philadelphia Amateur Chess Championship as far back as 1941, she became noticeable in the late 1940s through the 1960s.  She was a member of the Germantown YMCA Chess Club and a Director of the Mercantile Library Chess Association.

An article in the "Philadelphia Inquirer" on Oct. 10, 1953 related:

     A friend of Sydney T. Sharp, an internationally known chess player, was given all his chess books and chess equipment in his will probated yesterday.
     Mr. Sharp, who lived at 4650 Locust St., died Sept. 28 in Jefferson Hospital. He was 68. He had represented Philadelphia in national and international chess contests on many occasions during the last half century.
     He bequeathed his chess equipment and books to Mrs. Mary Selensky of Philadelphia and the the residue of his estimated $35000 estate to his wife, Joanna W. H.Sharp.
     He made the bequest to Mrs. Selensky, he said in his testament, "in recognition of the excellent work she has done in the cause of the game of chess."

     For years, Mrs. Selenky taught a beginner's chess class on Tuesday nights at "The Junto: America's First Adult School," founded by Ben Franklin and located at 12th and Walnut sts. in Philadelphia.


     Here is a game between Mary Selensky and Saul Wachs is 1948.  Wachs was only 16. He was the West Philadelphia Boy's Champion at age 11, then later became the U.S. Junior Champion, the Philadelphia Champion, the U.S. Junior Speed Champion, the Pennsylvania Speed Champion, the Tri-State (Pa., Ohio, W.Va.) Open Champion and the National Intercollegiate Speed Champion.

Saul Wachs, 1952

     Another example of Selenky's play can be seen in this 1952 game from the Germantown-Allentown match. Her opponent, Martin Simsak, at one time both the Allentown City Champion and the Bethlehem City Champion,  became the joint Allentown-Bethlehem Champion in 1991 at age 80:

     Lina Grumette, remembered now as a so-called mother figure for Bobby Fischer, started life on Aug. 16 1908 in Kaliningrad, then part of East Prussia now an Oblast of Russia, as Lina Futterman.  She moved to Brooklyn when she was 9. She married Murray Grumette who incidentally wrote several books of math-based puzzles (such as "Geometricks," 1939 and "The Service Man's FUN KIT - a collection of puzzles," sometime during WWII) . As far as her chess goes, she took lessons from Isaac Kashdan and was eventually strong enough to enter the women's championship. She and Murray operated an import/export business in Brooklyn.  In the early 1950s they moved to Hollywood. There she became acquainted with Herman Steiner and Jacqueline Piatigorsky whom she assisted in organizing the famed Piatigorsky Cup tournaments in the 1960s. After Murray died in 1970 she opened a chess club in her home called "the Chess Set."  She organized an annual Memorial Day tournament.  Fischer stayed in her home for several months in 1967 and she traveled to Reykjavik purportedly to cajole him into playing the match.  Lina died of lung cancer on July 21, 1988.
1967 at the American Open Chess Championship Tournament at the Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica




Lucille Kellner

     Lucillle Kellner of Detroit, born in 1904,  was the co-winner with N. May Karff of the U.S. Women's Open  in 1950. and many time winner of the Michigan Women's Championship.  She also played in the 1948, 1955 and 1957 U.S. Women's Championships and was an inveterate postal player who participated in the Golden Knights Tournaments for years.   Her life was cut short at age 60( in 1964)  but memory of her lived on thanks to her brother Louis who established the Lucille Kellner Memorial Trophy and the Lucille Kellner Memorial Fund in 1965 for the winner of the U.S. Women's Championship.  The Detroit City Tournament was renamed the  Lucille Kellner Memorial Tournament in 1965 (won by Dr. Erich Marchand with Greta Olsson winning the women's title).

Lucille Kellner Memorial Trophy

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