Women in Chess - 1940

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The first U.S. Women's championship, organized and directed by Caroline Marshall (Frank Marshall's better half), was won by Adele Rivero. She also won, unexpectedly, in 1940. Mona Mary Karff and Gisela Gresser were considered stronger players. In fact Karff would hold (or co-hold) the title 7 times, the last time at age 60. She would also win 4 consecutive U.S. Women's Chess Opens. Gresser would hold (or co-hold) the US Women's championship title 10 times the last time at age 63, and would win the U.S. Women's Chess Open once.


Women's chess has come a long way since those days. The article below, published in the magazine, Chess Review in 1940, gives us some enlightenment.


Chess Review June-July 1940

Women in Chess
by Edith Lucie Weart
Random Reflections on the U. S. Women's Championship -

Congratulations to Mrs. Adele Rivero for winning the tournament - and with such an excellent score. She lost only one game .... This tournament was the strongest ever, and the most exciting. Although first place was decided during the semi-final round, the standing of the other players was uncertain until the adjourned games of the final round were finished .... Nice prizes for the players. George Emlen Roosevelt gave a beautiful silver tray for first prize. A chess set and the book "Chessmen" went to Miss N. May Karff, second prize winner. Dr. Helen Weisenstein and Mrs. Giselda Gresser, who shared third place, each got elaborate kits of beauty preparations. Similar kits, but smaller, went to Mrs. Mary Bain and Mrs. Raphael McCready who tied for fifth place. Consolation prizes - chess pins - to the remaining players .... Unusual confusion before the tourney started. Should non-citizens be allowed to compete? This question was raised only a few weeks before the starting date. In 1938 the citizenship rule was abrogated. Final decision, made only a few days before the tournament started, allowed those who held their first papers to compete this year. This permitted Mrs. Rivero and Dr. Weisenstein to play .... Who would run the tournament and where it would be held was not finally decided until the night before the play started.  Mrs. Frank Marshall again donated her time as director .... The men certainly had the best arrangements at the Astor -- larger tables, more comfortable chairs, better light and better protection from the fans. But the women were good sports about it ..... Greatest surprise to us was the moment when Miss Raettig resigned to Mrs. Rivero. She has a reputation of playing out to the bitter end, hoping for a stalemate, apparently. After she finished her last game she bough a beginning chess book. "I thought I needed it," Miss Raettig said, apparently somewhat depressed by her poor showing. Some of the men who had played against Mrs. Gresser at the Marshal Chess Club expected her to win the tournament. We weren't so sure, knowing that club play is not adequate preparation for playing in an important tournament. Certainly she suffered from "tournament jitters." She said the strain of the tourney took her completely by surprise. She did pretty well, at that .... She seemed to have a new costume for each session. Perhaps it gave her confidence to feel she looked attractive .... Dr. Lasker asked Mrs. Kashdan why she wasn't playing. "My husband doesn't want me to," Helen answered. "You should learn to assert yourself," the doctor told her .... We felt pretty bad ourselves, to have the tournament start without us, but we didn't have time to play .... Too bad none of the women from the mid-West could have come on to compete .... And whatever has happened Mrs.Kathryn Slater and Mrs. Wm. Davey who were such promising players in the New York Tournament of 1937? .... Milton Hanauer complimented the women by saying that were playing good chess ....  Mrs. Bain still forgets to punch her clock when she is short of time. She ought to tie a red string around her thumb, or something, to remind herself .... As Mrs. Gresser mated Miss Karff she said, "I'm sorry." .... Mrs. Rivero seemed to have learned to control her nervousness. We didn't see a single shredded handkerchief around the chair .... The newspapers gave the women good publicity. The World Telegram wrote up Mrs. Rivero and the Sun had an article about Mrs. McCready, with pictures of her whole family playing chess .... Mrs. Harmath played better chess than you would think from her score. She should have drawn several important games. More experience in the end game and she will place much higher in the next tournament.... The women had many spectators as the men for some of their games. Hard to get near the tables sometimes.