American Woman - Part IV

American Woman - Part IV

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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 II  Part III  |   Part V  |  Part VI  Part VI | 



     The 1959 U.S. Women's Championship was held at the Log Cabin Chess Club of West Orange, N.J. and at the Manhattan  and at the Marshall Chess Clubs of N.Y.C. from around the beginning of December until Dec.12, 1959 and was and was jointly sponsored by the USCF and the Log Cabin Chess Club of West Orange, N.J. 
E. Forry Lauchs directed the tournament.

Lisa Lane...................7-1
Gisella Gresser........6½-1½
Mona May Karff.....5½-2-5
Eva Aronson.............3-5
Mary Selensky.........4-4
Nancy McLeod........2½-5½
Mildred Morrell.......2½-5½
Lena Grummette.....2-6
Mabel Burlingame..1-7

     The NY "Times" ran a photo essay as the tournament began which included these images:

      Mabel Anderson Burlingame and her husband Elmer Wesley Burlingame, both originally from New Jersey,  were well known in the western chess scene.  Elmer wasn't much of a player but supported his wife and accompanied her to her tournaments. Together they owned the Burlingame Aviary at 3100 E. Roosevelt St. in Phoenix, a business that started as a hobby, specializing in parakeets and canaries, that grew into a one of breeding prize-winning show birds -  much along the same lines as Mabel's chess grew from a hobby to an award-winner obsession.  Having learned to play from her three brothers in the 1930s, Mabel belonged to the Phoenix Chess Club which she formed in her home with about 10 other players in 1958. She devoted a good bit of time to putting out their monthly publication.  Besides that they has three children and six grandchildren by the mid 60s when he club had grown from a dozen to 260 members.  Burlingame was the Arizona Women's Champion at the time of the 1959 U.S. Women's Championship.   In 1962 she won the Idaho women's title. In 1972 she won the U.S. Women's Open.  In addition to the 1959 national championship, she also took part in the 1966, 1967, 1972 and 1974 competitions, usually scoring near the bottom.  She was at one time a vice-president of of the USCF and while she was an avid correspondence player, she also served as president of the Correspondence Chess League of America.   Born in 1910, Mable lived to be 90.

     Lisa Lane was something of a phenomenon.  Taking up chess while frequenting coffeehouses in 1957, she demonstrated a natural ability for the game.  She joined the Franklin-Merchantile Chess Club where caught the attention of the well-known Philadelphia player, Attilo Di Camillo, who began coaching her. In less than two years, Lisa won the women's title at the U.S. Amateur Open played at Asbury Park, N.J. in the spring of 1959 with a near perfect score of +5-1. 

     Even before the Amateur success, she had racked up an impressive debut at the March Rating Tournament in NYC:
      These successes were funneling her into an invitation to the U.S. Women's Championship that same year.  With seasoned players like Karff and Gresser, Lisa Lane was the dark horse.  But even so, she grabbed an early lead and held on tenaciously, going through the entire tournament undefeated.  this caused Frank Brady to write in "Chess Life" :
    In addition to the 1959 tournament  Lisa participated in the 1962 (2nd place) and the 1966 (co-winner) championships.  In 1966 she and Gresser filled the two spots in the Women's Chess Olympiads. Gresser on 1st board scored +3-1=3 while Lisa on board 2 scored an unimpressive  +2-6=2.  After than Lisa Lane dropped out of chess. 


     The Women's national championship took place  from April 22 to May 6 at three venues:
    The  Marshall C. C., the Manhattan C. C. and the London Terrace C. C. (round 8)
     It was sponsored by the USCF.  Dr. Edward Lasker served as TD.

Gisela Gresser..............8½-1½
Lisa Lane.......................7½-2½
Mary Bain......................7-3
Mona May Karff..........7-3
Eva Aronson.................7-3
Kate Sillars (age 14).....3½-6½
Mary Selensky.............3½-6½
Jackie Piatigorsky.......3½-6½
Mildred Morrell............2-8
Greta Fuchs...................1-9


     Gresser went undefeated, drawing only with Aronson, Karff, and Kellner.  Karff was also undefeated, but only managed to win against Kellner,  Lisa Lane played all out, conceding only one draw, but losing two games in the process.  14 year old Kate Sillars was able to hold Mary Bain to a draw and beat Selensky, Morrell and Fuchs.

Greta Fuchs

      Greta Fuchs was the membership secretary for the USCF in the 1960s.  She participated in several Open tournaments.

Kate Sillars

     Kate Sillars was only 14 when she qualified for this championship.  She learned chess from her father but only started serious play in 1960. In 1961 she was president of the New Trier H.S. chess club in Winnetka, Illinios (she lived in Wilmette) and, like Lisa Lane, shot to top echelon of U.S. women players.

      Kate's father was Robertson Sillars who wrote a "Chess Life" column called "Reader's Showcase." 

In the 1970s, Kate played under her married name , Katherine Gasser.  Living in Massachusetts, she's currently the older woman chess player in that state (see the Boylston Chess blog for a photo).  

     As women's champion of Illinois, 16 year old Kate played Fisher in a well-known simul game -played during his whirlwind 1964 simul tour-  a won game that she lost.  It was published by Al Horowitz in his NY "Times" column of April 26, 1964 in which he wrote:
     "In a whirlwind of combi­nations, with both players at­taining peaks of fantasy, Fischer, on the white side of a Sicilian Defense, takes the measure of Kate Sillars, the 17‐year‐old women's cham­pion of Illinois." 
. . . and . . .
     "The climax and crucial point is reached with 17. N‐B5. Black then has a clear ex­change plus. Besides, she has retained her two bishops. Theoretically, victory is in sight. But White still has one main chance to becloud the issue, and his immediate threats are not answered by Black in the most practical manner."


     The 1964 championship tournament was held at the Henry Hudson Hotel in New York from April 26 to May 10.
     $750 from Piatigorsky Foundation
     $150 from Gisela Gresser via the American Chess Foundation.

Sonja Graf...............................8½-1½
Gisela Gresser........................7½-2½
Mona May Karff.....................6½-3½
Eva Aronson...........................5½-4½
Jackie Piatigorsky...................5½-4½
Cecelia Rock............................5-5
Mary Selensky........................4½-5½
Zenaida Huber (later Wagner)... 4-6
Mary Bain................................3½ 6½
Sara Kaufman.........................2½-7½
Adele Goddard........................2-8


     New Faces for 1964:
Sara Kaufman
         Sara Neugarten was born in Brooklyn in 1933. She graduated from Queens College and worked as care worker and supervisor for Children's Services.  Besides chess, she was an avid gardener and political activist, involved in the League of Women Voters and the League of Conservative voters.  She raised 3 children. 
Sara Kaufman died in 2012.

Adele Goddard
     Adele Huusari was born in Finland in 1917.  He family  -mother, father, sister and brother- moved to the U.S. in 1923 and lived in Westminster, Massachusetts. Adele attended the University of Miami. She married Morrill Goddard, Jr., (the son of Morrill Goddard, editor of the NY Journal and a powerful associate of Joseph Pulizer and William Randall Hearst,  assisting the latter with his unique talent for yellow journalism).  The couple resided in Miami, later moving to Maine.   Her passions besides chess were golf and animals.  Goddard played in the U.S. Chess Open in 1960, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1967, 1969  but in the U.S. Women's Championship only this one time.
Adele Goddard died in 2005.

Cecelia Rock
     One of 13 children, Cecelia Rock caught the chess bug from her father, a frequent player in the U.S. Opens.  They belonged to the Pittsfield YMCA Chess Club in Washington, Massachusetts.  Celia started participating in the U.S. Open in 1959 at age 12.  In the 1962 Open in San Antonio, Cecelia made the papers by beating  Corpus Christi's strongest played and 7th in this event.  She repeated this feat in the 1963 Asbury Park U.S. Amateur tournament (in which she won the women's title): 

The new U.S. Amateur Women's champion is young Cecelia Rock, a high school student from Hinsdale, Mass.  In the first rond Miss rock caused the greatest sensation of the tournament when she defeated ninth-ranking Harlod L. Crane (2097). She lost her next two games but went on to score three out of four, finishing with a strong 4-3.
"Chess Life,"  June 1963

     Surprisingly, the title of U.S. Women's Open Champion in 1963 came down to two 16 year old girls, Kate Sillars and Cecelia Rock:

"The women's open title was awarded to 16 year old Kate Sillars, whose 7-6 score in the main event was the highest achieved by her sex.  Cecilia Rock, another 16 year old, obtained a winning position in her last-round game, a victory in which would have enabled her to displace Kate for top honors.  The excitement was too much for her, however, and she missed her way, tying at 6.5--5.5 with Lucille Kellner and Mildred Morrell."
"Chess Review," Oct 1963

     1964 was Cecelia's sole venture into the U.S. Women's Chess Championship as she went on to pursue other things (she received her bachelor's degree in Psychology in 1969).

Zenaida Huber Wagner (1967)
       Zenaida Huber, born in Cuba born in 1940, took up chess  after reading "Alice in Wonderland."   She was taught by her father, Gustavo.  When she fled the country with her sister in 1962, nshe was considered the 2nd best woman player in Cuba.  She said they traveled with two dresses each and a wooden plaque from the Cuban government for  "Best Woman Player of the Year, 1960."    She even has a photograph of Che Guevara watching her play.   All her other personal belongings, as well as her finances, had been confiscated by the government.  Her Austrian-born father died in Cuba and her Cuban-born mother fled to Spain where she died of a heart attack.  She married Lawrence Wagner, Jr. , a physicist and a strong expert whose brother Carl was the New England Champion at the time,  in October of 1965.  she also participated in the 1967 U.S. Women's Championship tying with Mary Bain and Eva Aronson for 5th place.


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