Women Can Play Chess!

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This is about women and it's about chess -  a century ago,  before Women's sufferage, before the Women's Liberation Movement, before the ERA.

This is back when women were Ladies and men were Gentlemen.

Almost 50 years had gone by since Staunton put on the First International Chess Tournament in London. The Ladies' Chess Club of London in conjunction with the Women's Chess Club of New York, with the help of some prominent players such as Harry Nelson Pillsbury and Joseph Blackburne as well as that of some influential individuals, organized the First International Ladies' Chess Congress. This was in 1897.


Mrs. Worrall provided the "key."

In front of Miss Hooke are four ladies in a row: Madame Bonnefin stands almost in front of Miss Hooke; at her left, wearing a hat, is Miss Watson ; to the left of Miss Watson is Miss Thorold, wearing a bonnet; and standing at Miss Thorold's left, without a hat, is Miss Forbes-Sharpe. At the top of the picture, close to the screen, is one lady wearing a hat : Miss Hooke.
The next row of ladies, commencing at the left of the group, is, first, Miss Rudge, wearing
a hat; then, without a hat, is Miss Finn ; the The five ladies in the next row, seated upon chairs, are, commencing at the left of the froup, and directly in Iront of Miss Rudge: Miss Field, then Mrs. Worrall, and the lady wearing what Mrs. Worrall calls an 1837 bonnet is the favorite, Mrs. Bowles; the gray- haired lady next is Lady Thomas, and the end one is Mrs. Fagan. The four seated upon the floor are, commencing at the left. Miss Fox, Miss Hertzsch, Miss Eschwege, and Mrs. Sydney.



-American Chess Magazine 


The Ladies' Chess Tournament.
     The first international chess tournament for women players will be held in London during the Queen's Jubilee, commencing June 22. The arrangements are all completed. The tournament is under the patronage of her Royal Highness, Princess Charles of Denmark (Princess Maud of Wales), Lord Russell of Kilowen (Lord Chief Justice of England), the Lord and Lady Mayoress of London, and other notables.
     Lady Newnes is president of the Tournament Committee, and Mrs. Rhoda Bowles, match captain of the Ladies' Chess Club, is secretary. There are six prizes, sixty, fifty, forty, thirty, twenty and fifteen pounds, and a brilliancy prize offered by Baron Albert de Rothschild of twenty pounds sterling. The first prize was contributed by Sir George Newnes, who has taken a deep interest in the tournament, the second by Mr. Pillsbury. The entrance fee is two guineas.
     The tournament will be played at the Hotel Cecil for six days, but the final rounds will be decided at the Ideal Café, the headquarters of the Ladies' Chess Club. The prospectus states that it will be a one round tournament ; two games a day ; time limit twenty moves an hour ; hours of play from i to 5 P. M. and 7 to 11 P. M. Mrs. Harriet Worrall, of Brooklyn, will be the representative of this country. She has a reputation for steady play, and her friends believe she will not be far from the top at the finish. Mrs. Worrall has been in training for the tournament during the last few months and is in good form. She has played chess many years, at one time contesting a great many games with the late Captain Mackenzie at the odds of a Knight. She also played a match with Mrs. Nellie Showalter, which, however, was not finished. Originally the number of players was limited to sixteen, but this had to be increased to twenty-two, inasmuch as thirty- two women entered for the tourney. A committee of three members from the British, City of London and Metropolitan Chess Clubs have selected the following women as eligible to play :
     America—Mrs. Worrall, Miss Foote (reserve); Mrs. Showalter has also been selected, but she will not play.
     Canada—Mrs. Stevenson.
     France—Mme. de Lavigne.
     Germany—Frau Mullerhertungand Frau Hertzsch.
     Italy—Signorina Fagan.
     Belgium—Mme. Marie Bonnefin.
     England—Lady Thomas, Miss Rudge, Miss Field, Miss Fox, Miss Watson, Miss 
Eschwege, Mrs. Sydney, Miss Thorold and Miss Gooding. Miss Eschwege is of German parentage, but was born in England.
     Scotland—Miss Forbes-Sharpe.
     Ireland—Miss Finn and Mrs. Barry.
     Reserves—Miss Hooke, Mrs. Vivian, Mrs. Riadgrath and Mrs. Banling, all of England.
     Referee—H. N. Pillsbury, New York.




     The first Ladies' International Chess Congress, played under the management of the Ladies' Chess Club, of London, was finished July 3. The schedule of two rounds a day was strictly adhered to, one evening being devoted to the adjourned games. It was one of the most successful tournaments in the history of the game, no friction occurred, everything went on with the regularity of machinery and the Congress was a credit to the executive ability of the able match captain of the club, Mrs. Rhoda Bowles.     

 Games were commenced at the Hotel Cecil, in the Masonic Hall, on June 23, hours of play being from 1 to 5 and 7 to 11 P. M. The hall had only been engaged for six days and the concluding rounds were played at the home of the club in the Ideal Café, Tottenham Court Road.
     During the tournament it was announced that M. Eschwege, father of one of the contestants, had oftered four gold medals as consolation prizes for those below the money prize winners. The full scores and distribution of prizes were as follows


   Miss Rudge, London, first prize, $300; won 18½, lost ½.
  Signorina Fagan, Italy, second prize, $250; won 15½, lost 3½.
  Miss Thorold, London, third prize, $200; won 14, lost 5.
  Mrs. Harriet Worrall, Brooklyn, fourth prize, 150; won 13, lost 6.
  Madame Marie Bonnefin, Belgium, fifth prize, $100; won 12½, lost 6½.
  Mrs. Barry, Ireland; Lady Thomas. London, each won 11½, lost 7½, divided sixth prize, $75.
  Miss Watson and Miss Gooding, each won 10½, lost 8½; Mrs. Sidney and Miss Hooke, each 10, 9;    Miss Fox, 9, 10; Frau Hertzsch, 8½, 10½; Miss Eschwege, 6, 13; Frau Müller- Härtung, 5½, 13½;   Madame De la Vigne, 4, 15; Miss Forbes-Sharpe, 4, 15; Mrs. Stevenson, 1½, 17½.


The longest game of the tournament was ninety moves, and the shortest ended in a mate in nine moves. The proportion of adjourned games, considering the short hours of play, was not large, averaging about one game to each round ; the total number of adjourned games was eighteen, and they were all finished up in one evening. Lady Thomas had the largest number of games adjourned—five; Mrs. Worrall, adjourned, four. The prizes were distributed by Lady Newnes, president of the British Ladies' Chess Club. The Ladies' Chess Congress will be of great benefit to chess and from it may be expected many similar contests. It is really the entry of women into chess club life. It is reasonable to expect that women will work reforms in chess clubs that they have in all other lines where they have gained the right to equal competition. Miss Mary Rudge (pictured, above left), winner of the first prize, is a well-known London player, ranking in chess strength with the first class of the leading men's clubs. She is past middle age and has had a large experience in chess. Her record is very fine and stamps her as a steady player. She won first prize in a minor tournament at Clifton last year, and while considered one of the best players in this Congress she was not expected to make such a fine score. Mrs. Fagan, the Italian representative, winner of the second prize, is a sister of the well-known English amateur, Dr. Ballard. Miss Thorold is also of a chess family, her brother being the originator of the Thorold-Allgaier variations of the King's Gambit. Mrs. Worrall is well known to American players and her victory will be a gratification to her friends. Lady Thomas (pictured right) is a middle-aged lady of matronly appearance; she won first prize in the ladies' section of the Hastings tournament in 1895. Miss Field is one of the younger players of the Congress, steady and with good judgment.


Miss Field, Miss Gooding, Miss Watson and Mrs. Sidney each received a
medal, given by Mr H. Eschwege. Miss Hooke received a music case and,
Hoffer reported, “Miss Hertzsch and Miss Mullerhartung a prize each for
amicability. This prize was fully deserved.”

              Madame de la Vigne

 Tim Harding did an excellent 2  part article on the First International Ladies' Chess Congress:

                       Part 1   Part 2 

In researching this article, I came across two unexpected mistakes of mis-information. One was The Batsford Book Of Chess Records by Yakov Damsky- Page 292 which states  "The English Ladies' Champion Mary Reid, who won the first women's international tournament in chess history at London in 1897."  I never heard of "Mary Reid" and no search revealed anything about a chess player named Mary Reid.


The other was Lasker's Chess Magazine  by Em. Lasker - Page 215 which states "Miss Finn won the first prize in the London International Ladies Chess Congress of 1897"



Kate Belinda Finn did not win the 1897 tournament, but she was the first British Chess Federation Ladies' Champion, winning the title in 1904 through 1905




                          Kate Belinda Finn



            ~~ A few games from the tournament ~~