Early ladies' chess tournaments

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Brian Denman
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Early ladies' chess tournaments

Post by Brian Denman » Fri Nov 04, 2016 10:27 pm

For the sake of historical accuracy I feel that I should correct a mistake in Robert Tanner's new biography of Vera Menchik. Robert states (page 7) that the first ladies' chess tournament was held in Sussex in 1884 and was won by a Miss Parvess. He may have used as his source an article on women in chess by Jacqueline Levy in the BCM of September 1981, where the same mistake was made. Chris Ravilious discovered about twenty years ago that the winner of the tournament was Miss Mary Louisa Parren. Born in 1857 in London, she lived at the Laurels at Windmill Hill (near Herstmonceux), a rural part of East Sussex. She had relatives living in Hove which was very helpful as the tournament was held at the St Ann's Chess Club in that town. Mary was still part of the Sussex chess scene in 1889, when she married Robert Hopkins Roberton. The couple settled down at Stoke Golding in Leicestershire and Mary lived until 1947, when she died at Hinckley.

I am not a general chess history expert, but I doubt that the first ladies' tournament was held in Sussex in 1884. I believe that a woman's tournament was advertised at the first meeting of the North Yorkshire and Durham Chess Association in August 1866. I am also aware that there was a ladies chess club in Philadelphia in about 1860. There must be a good chance that they held their own tournament.

Leonard Barden
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Re: Early ladies' chess tournaments

Post by Leonard Barden » Fri Nov 04, 2016 10:50 pm

Brian Denman wrote:For the sake of historical accuracy I feel that I should correct a mistake in Robert Tanner's new biography of Vera Menchik.
Edward Winter in Chess Notes is unimpressed by this book:

McFarland & Company, Inc. has let itself down badly with Vera Menchik by Robert B. Tanner (Jefferson, 2016).

Far smaller than most of the company’s chess biographies, it is also far sloppier. A 15-minute skim of the General Index revealed about 30 misspellings, most of them obvious (e.g. ‘Folkstone’, ‘Jermey’ Gaige and ‘San Sebastion’). The unimpressive Bibliography includes an entry with errors in authorship, title and date:


Vera Menchik by Robert B. Tanner has been consigned to the bottom of our reading pile.

Tim Harding
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Re: Early ladies' chess tournaments

Post by Tim Harding » Sat Nov 05, 2016 5:34 pm

Brian Denman wrote: I am not a general chess history expert, but I doubt that the first ladies' tournament was held in Sussex in 1884. I believe that a woman's tournament was advertised at the first meeting of the North Yorkshire and Durham Chess Association in August 1866. I am also aware that there was a ladies chess club in Philadelphia in about 1860. There must be a good chance that they held their own tournament.
I have not seen much about the 1860 ladies club and there is no direct evidence they held a tournament. So the 1866 event in Redcar was probably at least the first open ladies tournament (it was open to any woman who joined the Association to enter) and it's known that Miss Eliza Thorold was the winner. See for example the Illustrated London News and the York Herald of 18 August 1866.

The Herald names several other women who were present in Redcar (including Mrs Staunton and Mrs Thorold, Eliza's sister-in-law who died young) but doesn't clarify which of them competed for the ladies prize. The Illustrated London News on the same day mentions Mrs Dixon, Mrs Seaton and Miss Thorold among those who were "actively engaged" in the proceedings so there is a possible inference that they were the only three competitors for the prize. The ILN of the 25th has more about Redcar but not the womens' event.

Also well prior to the Sussex tournament was the Third Class for Ladies at the Counties Chess Association Congress, Malvern 1872, which was won by Emily Harriet Rudge (18339-1873), sister of the more famous Mary.
Tim Harding
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Author of 'British Chess Literature to 1914', Joseph Henry Blackburne: A Chess Biography', and 'Eminent Victorian Chess Players'
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Brian Denman
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Re: Early ladies' chess tournaments

Post by Brian Denman » Mon Nov 07, 2016 2:49 pm

Thank you for providing your historical knowledge about the Redcar tournament, Tim. I was hoping that someone would provide this detail. I would just like to comment on Edward Winter's review of Tanner's book as quoted by Leonard Barden. Edward only comments on the index and bibliography and I wonder if he has read the whole book. It is quite true that the author has included a number of spelling mistakes and some of the research is not detailed enough. At the same time it is a nicely produced book with illustrations and many people will enjoy reading it. I particularly liked reading the detailed account of Vera's participation in the 1935 Moscow Tournament. I raised the point about the ladies' tournament in Hove because the error has occurred before and I wanted it corrected. It was not meant to be a general statement about the book itself.

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