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.
In 1972 the U.S. Women's Championship was hosted at the Suwannee Hotel, St. Petersburg, Florida in late spring. Robert Braine served as T.D.
The tournament was also a Zonal to qualify two players for the Interzonal in 1973.
The veteran Peggy Gresser was the favored to win. Of the eleven players five were newcomers. Braine called this "a new era in women's chess."
The tournament was an upset with one veteran, Eva Aronson (of St. Petersburg no less) and young Marilyn Braun sharing the title. Braun went through the tournament undefeated- the only player to do so.
Louis Kellner not only donated the Lucille Kellner Memorial Trophy, presented to the pair by the female vice-mayor of the city, but also helped where needed in directing the tournament. Aronson and Braun each received a smaller replica of the Lucille Kellner Trophy..
Marilyn (Koput) Braun...7½
Vice-Mayor C. Bette Wimish presenting the trophy to Marilyn Braun and Eva Aronson
The $50.00 "Best Played Game" award, donated by Louis Kellner, was shared by Donna Bragg for her win over Rachel Crotto and by Marilyn Braun for her win over Gisela Gresser. Braun and Gresser's game is given below. All games were scrutinized by Jack Straley Battell and Ed Edmondson with Arthur Bisguier acting as judge.
The $25.00 "Brilliancy Prize" was awarded to Joan Schmidt for this win over Susan Sterngold:
Both Eva Aronson (age 65) and Marilyn Braun qualified for the Interzonals to be held in Menorca, Spain in Oct. 1973. Braun couldn't participate, so Ruth Donnelly substituted for her. It proved to be a disastrous affair for the Americans. Donnelly came in last (20th) place +0=4-15. Aronson didn't fare much better, tying for 18th-19th with +1=5-13.
Here is Donnelly's loss to 8th placed Alexandra Nicolau:
Here's Eva Aronson's loss to 11th placed Katarina Jovnovic:
For both Ruth Donnelly
and Joan K. Schmidt
it was their first championship appearance but wouldn't be their last. Donnelly, then from of Smithtown, New York but later from Charlottesville, Virginia.
also participated in the championships in 1976, 1978, 1981, 1978, 1981, 1984, 1986, 1987and 1989 while Schmidt, of Raleigh, NC played in 1974 and 1975. Donna Bragg
of California —
who had taken the first's women's prize in the American Open (started in 1965 by the Santa Monica Chess Club) in 1968 (+4-4) and and in the U.S. Continental Open, played in the Airport Marina Hotel on L.A.,1970 (+4-2) —
only played in this one championship. Susan Sterngold
, a1971 graduate of the University of Wisconsin in Madison with a B.A. degree in Philosophy, played in the 1972, 1974, 1978 and 1979 competitions. Today she's a remarkable banjo player and an experienced psychotherapist (MSSW from the Columbia University School of Social Work 1994).
The 1974 contest was held at the Princess Martha Hotel in St. Petersburg, Florida from April 27 to May 12.
The championship was played in St. Petersburg in 1972 and in 1974. In 1972 it was held at the Suwanee Hotel in the upper left corner. In 1974 it was held at the Princess Martha Hotel (ow a retirement facility) - the large building on the right. Coincidentally, while this event was in progress, the Florida Checkers Open was also being held in the Princess Martha Hotel.
Eva Aronson, the only one of the co-title holders participating, was from St. Petersburg. Aronson was also Chairman of the USCF Women's Chess Committee Three of the players, Aronson, Gresser and Karff held the WIM title —at that time the highest title awarded to women players by FIDE. As in the 1972 tournament, there was an influx of young talent: Diane Comini, Judith Rippeth and Geta Olsson and the players came from across the nation. Those from New York City included Karff, Gresser and Slater; Comini and Olsson came from California; Aronson, Florida; Burlingame, Arizona; Haring, Arkansas; Sterngold, Wisconsin; Schmidt, North Carolina and Rippeth from Indiana.
The great veteran, Mona May Karff, who won, suffered no losses. But neither did newcomer and second-placed Ruth Haring.
TDs: Martin E. Morrison and Ed Edmondson
1st $200 and possession of the Lucille Kellner trophy; 2nd $150; 3rd $100; 4th $75; 5th $50; 6th $25; Best Game $50; Brilliancy $25
Mona May Karff........8
Ruth Haring-Orton, 1975
Ruth Inez Haring was a recent graduate of the University of Arkansas in Conway where she played first board. In this milieu, she met and soon married Bill Orton, Jr. who played first board for Hendrix College, also in Conway and was one of the best players in the state. In the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Championship held in Louisville, Kentucky in 1974, Ruth and Bill faced each other on first board -the game ended in a draw. Haring was no stranger to chess honors, coming as the 2nd highest women in the 1973 U.S. Open in Chicago and co-champion with Ruth Donnelly in the 1974 U.S. Open in New York.
from a report of a Swiss tournamentplay in Memphis in 1975
The above game won the $50.00 "Best Game" prize
Judith Rippeth came in ahead of only Diane Comini and this would be her only championship opportunity. But she deserves some closer attention. Described as a self-taught player, she belonged to her high school (Thomas Carr Howe High School of Indianapolis. Indiana) Chess Club during her junior and senior years and was v.p. in her last year (1971). She also played flute in the school orchestra.
She had been a student as Indiana State University at Terre Haute for three years but at the time of this tournament, she was working as a secretary and spending some evenings teaching chess at a chess clinic in West Lafayette
The above photo, taken a month after the championship, shows Judy Rippeth after beating Bernard Parham (of the infamous Parham Attack. Parham operated a club called "The Chess Castle" in West Lafayette, Indianna.
a 1980 ad placed by Parham
For last placed Dianne (Diane) Comini of Davis California, this was her only venture into the championships.
This championship was held at The Plankinton House in Milwaukee, Wisconsin from July 12 until 27.
Pearle Mann, 1966
Pearle Mann —an exceptional organizer and the first, and at this time only, female FIDE arbiter and female U.S. tournament director — served as TD. According to Mann this was "the strongest event of it's kind ever held"
The sponsors were the USCF and The American Chess Foundation.
Louis Kellner presented each participant with a "Diva Caissa" paperweight (image: http://www.worldchesshof.org/uploads/2016/02/15/ruthharingppw.jpg).
The Herff-Jones Co. gave the champion a 10k gold necklace.
Fred Cramer and Arpad Elo presented the prizes and checks while 89 year old Ed Lasker presented the trophy.
Savereide was awarded a WIM title since this was also a FIDE Zonal and her score qualified.
There were four WIM's in this tournament: Eva Aronson, Gisela Gresser, Marilyn Koput Simmons and Mona May Karff.
Rachel Crotto, at 16 years old, was the youngest contestant
The first 6 players shared the $600 prize money. However the Milkwaukee Chess Foundation supplied 5 additional prizes that were awarded to the 5 players on the bottom.
Eva Aronson, Chairman of the US Women's Chess Committee and Marylin Koput Simmons planned the event.
Michael Wierzbicki served as referee an Frank Thornally served as game editor for the tournament bulletin.
Ruth I. Orton.........6½
Mona May Karff ...5½
Greta P. Olsson.....5½
Eva K. Aronson.......3½
Savereide won the title by a full point. Ruth Herstein and Ruth Haring-Orton were a full point ahead of the Crotto and Karff who shared 4th-5th place.
Diane Savereide at the 1975 U.S. Women's Championship
Diane Savereide of Culver City has played in a number of open tournaments in this area with fair success. She has generally been ahead of other women competitors, winning a number of special trophies as best of her sex. With this experience, Savereide built her national rating to one of the highest in the women's field, and she was eligible for the 21st Invitational U.S. Women's Championship, held recently in Milwaukee. It was a round-robin with 11 participants. Savereide started poorly in her first national event, losing to Ruth Herstein of Los Angeles and drawing with Rachel Crotto of New York City. Then came three successive wins, and Savereide moved steadily ahead to take the first prize. In all, she won six games, drew three and lost one for a total of 7½-2½, a full point ahead of her nearest rivals. Herstein and Ruth Orton of Fayetteville, Arkansas, tied for second place with scores of 01-311. Herstein won her first three games to set the early pace, but, then, lost twice, to Linda Mahan of Santa Monica and Orton. Nothing daunted, Herstein won another three games in a row, but, a loss to Marilyn Simmons of Milwaukee ended her hopes for the top prize. Orton started more steadily with two draws and a win, but, she lost in the fourth round to Savereide, and in the final round to Mona Karff of New York, who had held the Women's title a number of times in past years. In addition the national championship, this was one of the zonal tournaments of the International Chess Federation, with the two leaders eligible to continue in the cycle for the Women's World Championship. Savereide has earned her place, but, Herstein and Orton must play off for the second position. Karff finished in a tie at 51/2-41/2 with Rachel Crotto of New York and Greta Olsson of Santa Monica. Olsson started by beating Karff in the first round and has points in four rounds, but, four losses in her last six games set her back. Another former women's champion, Gisela Gresser of New York had a minus score this time, 41/2-51/2. Eva Aronson of St. Petersburg, Fla., who has organized a number of tournaments in her home town, was a point lower with 3½-6½. At the rear were Mahan and Joan Schmidt of Raleigh, N.C., with 2½-7½
In their play-off, Ruth Orton beat Ruth Herstein 3-1. Savereide and Orton won places representing the U.S. at the Women's Interzonal.
Linda Mahan of Santa Monica played in the 1975 and the 1981 championships. According to Stephen Leary's pioneering "Chess in the Press," Mahan was mentioned in a 1979 article form "Nation's Business" entitled "The Sport of Mental Giants" by John Costello:
Linda Mahan, who owns the west coast recruiting firm Mahan, Marlowe & Assoc, said chess is like "driving an automobile at high speeds. I have a restored 1967 Formula S Barracuda fastback. Chess is like driving that car. My rating is about 2000. If my business allowed me more time for the game, I'd have a shot at being number one."
The two games below were given by Robert Byrne in his "Chess" column in the NY "Times." (8-12-1975 for the first game and 7-31-1975 for the second game). Additionally, Byrne gave the following insight about women's chess:
"The results of the 1975 United States women's championship in Milwaukee show a further progress in two tendencies that have been developing for years the ascendance of youth to the top echelons and the wider spread of talent around the country. Nineteen-year-old Diane Savereide, the new champion with a score of 7½ points out of 10, comes from Culver City, Calif.. and is the youngest winner ever. Tied for second were Ruth Herstein of Los Angeles and Ruth OrtonHaring of Fayetteville, Ark., with 6½ points each."
"In the ninth round, Miss Saveride took a gigantic step toward her eventual victory by downing Gisela Gresser who for some years had all but dominated women's competition. Her winning weapons were superior opening play, culminating in the gain of a decisive pawn, and daredevil slithering, enabling her to weather a dangerous attack."
The Top 25 women active in 1975
This ends this series on the pioneers of the U.S. Women's Championships. As can be seen, in 1975 the remaining three veteran ladies —Gresser, Karff and Aronson— were struggling to keep from falling to the bottom and the young newcomers like Savereide, Herstein, Crotto, and Haring-Orton were ringing in a new era for the women of chess.