Little Mother, Part 1
Rhoda Annie Knott of Dawlish, a small town in Devon, married Henry Lewis Bowles, a strong chess player from nearby Exeter. While Rhoda wasn't a chess-player at the time, when she came down with an illness that left her temorarily blinded, her husband taught her to play the game by touch. Rhoda Bowles soon became one of the stronger woman players in England. More importantly, she became one of biggest promoters of women's chess.
Concerning H. L. Bowles, the BCM in 1903 wrote:
Rhoda was born in 1861 and died in 1931. The 1932 issue of the BCM had this to say:
Mrs. Rhoda A. Bowles.—Among the new chess columns we have received during the past year, that started in Womanhood, in February last, is now always certain of hearty welcome to our table; not only on account of the literaly ability of its conductor, but also because of her charming personality and the influence for good she wields in the London chess world. Mrs. Rhoda A. Bowles or,''Little Mother," as she is affectionately called by her intimate chess friends, has, in the short space of four years, compiled such a remarkable record as an organiser that we take special pleasure in referring to her achievements in the pages of the B.C.M.
All well informed chess votaries know that Mrs. Bowles is the life and soul of the now famous Ladies' Chess Club, but few know how she became acquainted with chess. The story is a pretty one. Mrs. Bowles tells us that it was entirely through her husband's love of chess that she, under his tuition, learnt to play. At tennis, billiards, &c., they could play together. Chess she deemed quite beyond a woman's powers; but nature subsequently came to her aid. After a few years of married life she was seized with a terrible illness, and was almost blind for three weeks, during which period I had, she says,—to be amused in some way. My dear husband read to me until I tired of that, then the brilliant idea struck him that he might teach me the ' names' of the chess pieces by 'touch'—for my eyes were bandaged night and day—this interested me greatly, and by the time that I had learnt the names and how to move the pieces, the shield could be lifted from my eyes sufficiently for me to see the 64 squares, and by the time of my convalescence I could move each piece correctly. Then came my eagerness to play a game! Oh the pleasure of it! No woman can realize until she has faced her husband on what she thinks the highest pinnacle beyond her. Of course I never stood a chance of winning, but the pleasure was to be in the same 'running'; to try, now that I was on the track, to perfect my speed—in other words play—until I could catch him up. I haven't done this yet, but I sometimes trap him, and have the pleasure of hearing him say 'well-played.'
After her recovery Mrs. Bowles became one of a coterie of ladies who met every week at each others houses to play chess; but finding there was a natural feeling of diffidence to this system Mrs. Bowles advocated, and was chiefly instrumental in securing, a small room at Charing Cross. Lady Newnes was invited to become president, and gladly consented; Mrs. Bowles was the first match captain and tournament secretary of the club, and was shortly after elected secretary and treasurer, and here, with the modest annual subscription of 5/-, was practically started the now famous Ladies' Chess Club. A successful tournament with 28 players was inaugurated, and the membership increased so rapidly that the subscription was raised, with an entrance fee of 5/-. Matches (23), chiefly for the sake of practice and experience, were arranged with other clubs; and of the first 200 games played the Ladies scored 79½ to 106½—a more reliable index of their skill than match results can indicate. As might be expected the little room at Charing Cross soon proved inadequate to the requirements of the now vigorous society, and it was found necessary to remove to more suitable quarters at 103, Great Russell Street, W C., which however was quickly outgrown, and the club now meets at 18a, Clifford Street, New Bond Street, the subscription being one guinea, with entrance fee 10/6.
At the Hastings Tourney, in 1895, in the Ladies' section, no less than five of the prizes were won by members of the Ladies' Club. The esprit de corps now manifest in the club could be traced largely to the indefatigable energy and exceptional organising powers of Mrs. Bowles, whose efforts were so highly appreciated by her fellow members that they presented to her in 1896 a beautiful writing table as a slight token of regard.
By this time the club membership had risen to over 100, and yet the ambition of the "Little Mother" was not satisfied. She had long thought that an International Tournament for Ladies would be a fitting event to be held during the Diamond Jubilee year of our Queen's reign. Indeed so far back as Whitsuntide, 1896, Mrs. Bowles had sought the opinion of several influential friends, whose encouragement was further emphasised by Sir George Newnes, who generously gave £60 for the first prize. The tournament was played in London; lasted a fortnight, from June 23rd, 1897, and proved a huge success—no less than 20 Ladies from all parts of the world competing for the prizes—the aggregate value of which amounted to some £250! The competitors came from Canada, New York, Germany, France, &c. Miss Rudge (England) proved to be the champion player and took first prize. Mrs. Worrall took the fourth prize to America, and received a great ovation. After the tournament the competitors marked their indebtedness to Mrs. Bowles by giving her a beautiful gold bracelet, with gold chess Queen as pendant.
We have long held the opinion that the officials of chess clubs devote too little attention to the social side of the game; and the wonderful successes achieved by Mrs. Bowles confirm our opinions. Every year the birthday of the Ladies' Club is honoured at a delightful re-union party, the fifth of which was given last month. On January 17th, Mrs. Bowles wrote to us as follows :—We celebrated the club's fifth birthday on Monday last (January 15th), when Mr. Atherley-Jones, Q.C, M.P., played 10 ladies simultaneously, winning 8½; Mrs. Chapman, one of our best match players, being the only winner against him. Congratulations were poured in upon us by our numerous chess friends, who came from all parts to wish us 'many happy returns of the day,' and to see our new quarters, which are situated at 18a, Clifford Street, near New Bond Street. Among those present were Gen. Minto Elliot, Col. White (C.W.., of Sunbury), Capt. McCanlis, Mr. Edward B. Schwann, Mr. W. W. White (Kent County Association), Mr. Walter Russell (hon. sec. City of London Club), Mr. Carslake Winter Wood, Mr. Gunsberg, Mr. Antony Guest (chess editor Morning Post), Dr. Ballard and Mrs. Ballard, Mrs. Ada S. Ballin (editor Womanhood), Mrs. Van Vliet, Mrs. Guest, Mr. Grantham Williams, Mr. Mocatta, Mr. R. Griffiths, Mr. Walter Gurner, and many other well-known chess enthusiasts.
We also learn from the February issue of Womanhood that the new quarters lent themselves capitally for the occasion, and the brightness of the rooms was enhanced by the scarlet and white (the Ladies' Chess Club colours) of the beautiful flowers which were prettily arranged about them. One room was devoted to alternation and consultation games. At one table Mrs. Fagan (the club's champion) paired with Mr. Mocatta (vicepresident City of London Chess Club) against Miss Rita Fox and Dr. Ballard (St. George's Chess Club) played two alternation games, both of which were won by Mrs. Fagan and her partner. Miss Finn, with Mr. Grantham Williams, played a spirited game against Mrs. Anderson and the Rev. F. W. Cleworth (of the Manchester Club), while Mrs. Bowles and Mr. Walter Russell won two games against Mrs. Robins in partnership with Captain McCanlis. There were several single-handed games of an enjoyable character, and plenty of chess chat. The gold medal, which was given as a brilliancy prize by the Ladies' Chess Club, and won by Herr Lasker in the recent London International Tournament, fully inscribed with the winner's name, was handed around for his many admirers to see before posting it off to Herr Lasker, who is at present in Berlin.
The continuous tournament of the club was finished on January 1st, and the prize-winners for the best percentage of wins on the number of games played were Mrs. Fagan, 1st, for the very fine percentage of 90.72; and Mrs. Clerke, 2nd, with 70.62 per cent. There were three prizes given for the largest number of games played, showing the best proportion of wins; in this Mrs. Clerke headed the list with 143 games played, of which she won 101. Mrs. Hussey was second, with 140 games played and 95 wins; Mrs. Stevenson third, having played 81, winning 41. The tournament brought so much pleasure to those competing, that it was decided to start another, which is now in full swing.
In the London League contest this season the Ladies' have done remarkably well, having won five matches out of six played. They now tie with the Polytechnic, whose team they defeated early in the season.
We congratulate Mrs. Bowles most heartily on the success which has attended her efforts on behalf of the club for which she has done so much, and we hope that the members will continue to enjoy, for many years to come, the pleasures which arise from her arduous labours in their behalf.
For permission to reproduce the portrait we publish of Mrs. Bowles, we are indebted to Mrs. Ada S. Ballin, the editor of Womanhood—a bright magazine of woman's progress and interests political, legal, social, and intellectual; and of health and beauty culture. Written by the highest authorities in each branch and splendidly illustrated. Published by F. L. Ballin, 5, Agar Street, Strand, London, price sixpence.
This photograph from a 1905 issue of Womanhood depicts H.L. and Rhoda Bowles together. the caption reads:
from the BCM, 1902:
Below is the mast that appeared above almost all of Mrs. Rhoda A. Bowles' chess columns in Womanhood magazine.
Besides the original sources, some information on Rhoda and H.L. Bowles came from the Keveral Chess site.