Willa and Edith

Willa and Edith

| 12 | Chess Players

     Nowadays information lies at our fingertips.  One might even argue that there is such an overflow that the effect is numbing and that the preciousness of the information lowers in an inverse ratio to the quantity.  It's hard sometimes to remember that this wasn't always the case.  Even 20 years ago, data and news weren't "on demand" and the outlets for news were limited to periodicals, newspapers, TV and radio, all of which culled out what didn't fit, didn't serve their purposes or simply was deemed too trivial.  Many times, things have been lost because no one cared enough or didn't have the outlet to report on them.  But, then again, sometimes things were saved through the energy and initiative of a few individuals or even a single individual. 
     The development of women's chess in the United States would have been largely forgotten, or at best misunderstood, if not for Edith Lucie Weart who chronicled it for us through her articles in Chess Review in the 1930s and 1940s and for Willa White Owens who reported on it in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. 

Edith Lucie Weart

     Edith Weart was born in Jersey City in Hudson County, N.J. on April 19, 1897. She attended Oberlin College in Oberlin Ohio, taking up residence in Canton after graduating in 1918 with a degree in chemistry.
     According to the brief bio in "The American Mercury," May 1929, in which an article of hers appears: "EDITH L. WEART was born in Jersey City and is a graduate of Oberlin. She specialized in chemistry and was engaged in laboratory work for a number of years. She is now secretary to two dermatologists, and devotes her spare time to medical editing."    
     In 1931 she was working as assistant to the advertising manager of Mead, Johnson & Co., a pharmaceutical house making  infant diet materials.  She wrote extensively on health related topics, writing book and publishing articles in prestigious periodicals. Her well-received books on health topics geared toward children include titles such as "The Story of Your Skin," "The Story of Your Bones," "The Story of Your Respiratory System," "The Story of Your Glands" and "The Story of Your Brain and Nerves."  In 1948 she also wrote one chess book, also highly esteemed and also geared toward children: "The Royal Game: Chess for Young People." Her chess book describes the chess pieces and their moves. It includes six short games and twelve problems.

     It was only in 1924 that Edith Weart learned chess.  And she learned it with a vengeance. 10 years later Carrie Marshall organized a women's chess tournament in New York City and solicited potential competitors for the area.  Edith Weart was one of ladies considered strong enough to participate.  After the tournament, Harriet Broughton, writing for "Chess Review," said, "Evidence of the serious attitude they have lies in Miss Edith Weart's statement that games "bore" her, but she "likes chess: She says that for ten years the only competition she was able to get was from friends she herself had taught to play; and she taught them all the Evans gambit! Moreover, she used this opening consistently playing white in the tournament. She ended with six wins and five losses."  In four years the tournament would evolve into the U.S. Women's Championship. 
     In the 1934 tournament
Miss Weart tied for 5th out out of 12 with a +6-5 score.  When the same tournament was held 2 years later, in 1936, Miss Weart tied for second (with Mary Bain, no less) right behind Adele Rivero
     In 1937, Weart, who was writing for "Chess Review," slipped to 9th place out of 10.

     In the 1938 U.S.Women's championship  Edith Weart came in 4th (behind N. May Karff, Mary Bain and Adele Rivero) with a respectable +7-3 score.  Shortly after that tournament Edith Weart, Mary Bain and Mrs. Raphael McCready were in Boston for a chess engagement.  On the return trip they were involved in a serious auto accident that pinned Weart under the car with a broken shoulder; Mary Bain suffered broken vertebrae which incapacitated her for an extended period of time; Mrs. McCready wasn't seriously injured.


                                   Edith Weart, at age 70, from the cover of "Chess Life," July 1967

     Miss Weart didn't compete in anymore U.S. Women's Championship though she did serve as assistant TD in 1946 and 1948 and served on the US Women's Championship committee 1951. After 1938, her reports for "Chess Review" began to taper off, But she didn't abandon chess and seemed to have had a special love for children as her books and the following newspaper article indicates:
                              The "Montreal Gazette", Dec. 20, 1952, p.33
Chess News, Views and Moves
Chess for Yound Shut-ins
    Miss Edith Weart, outstanding New York woman chess player and author of "The Royal Game for Children," pays weekly visits to bed-ridden children in the cardiac ward of the Bellevue Hospital and teaches them many new "tricks" on the chessboard.  All the "students" treasure the red and white Bellevue Chess Club button - a reward for mastering the fundamentals.  In the girls' ward, previously accustomed to seeing movies on Fridays, now is the centre of chess activity on that night; they are just a pleased and excited about the Royal Game as about "Donald Duck!   Peter, a ten-year old in the boys' ward, tells the story of this chess program in the Bellevue children's newspaper: "On Friday the chess lady came to play chess with us and I played good.  I played with the toy lady and she won one and I won one.  On Monday she came again and learned us a new trick but I surprised her because I knew it already. I learned it from her book."

     Here is Edith Weart losing after a strong fight to Adele Rivero:

     An example of Weart's writing and one that hearkens back to the historical period in which she played a major role is her memorial to Caroline Marshall from "Chess Life and Review," June 1971:

     Edith Lucie Weart died in January 1977 at age 79.


Willa White Owens

In the 1950s women's chess was covered mainly by Willa White Owens who, as noted above, was the Ohio women's champion. It's not quite clear when Willa White Owens first won the Ohio women's championship, but she held it throughout the early 1950s.
     Willa White Owens (White is her first married name; Owens, her second married name; I couldn't find her maiden name) was born on April 13, 1910 in Ohio. Most of her life remains a mystery to me, but I know she had 4 children, Linda (b. 1942), Carolyn (b. 1941), Robin (b. 1937) and Harold (b. 1933).  Her first husband died in 1948. She married her second husband, Ross Owens, in 1950. She had learned to play from her first husband around 1937 and met her second husband at a chess tournament. I was unable to determine when she started playing competitively but she did play a lot of chess at home, almost every evening, with Ross. She said they played to see who would wash the dishes and that her husband developed into a quite experienced dish-washer. As a competitive player, she was rated class "A."



Bill Wall  informed me that he knew Mrs. Owens from his tenure as president of the Ohio Chess Association and that during a vacation she took in Florida in 1998, she visited the chess club that was meeting in Books-a-Million in Melbourne, Florida and engaged in some games with Mr. Wall who also interviewed her.  She would have been 88 at the time. Two of the casual games are shown below.







Willa seldom published her own games except in a self-deprecating manner as her notes in these loss against Jackie Piatigorsky and Walter Blackburn show:


Here are two game (both losses, one inflicted by indomitable Gisela Gresser, the other by the sometimes-brilliant Mary Selensky) from the 1954 U.S. Women's Championship:

Willa White Owens died at age 93 on March 26, 2003 in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.

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