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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Harriet Worrall

    Her husband, Thomas Worrall, a strong amateur, is probably better known.  He had good results in 1850’s against some top players. Worrall was reported to have played 45 games against Howard Staunton, winning 22 and losing 23.  These were apparently odds games as Worrall played a match against Staunton at N odds which he won +8 -7 =0. Morphy played 15 games against Thomas Worrall and only scored +8 -7 =0.  Like her husband, Harriet (1836-1928) also played a few games at N odds against Morphy and managed to draw one.  Her husband, Thomas Herbert Worrall (1807-1878), whom she married in 1856, was a former British Army officer and in 1864, after serving as British Commissioner in Mexico as part of the British Mexican Legation moved to New York where he continued to play chess and serve as a public speaker about his experiences in Mexico.
     Harriet learned chess from her husband.  She was known as the country's strongest woman chess player. The Worrall’s lead a life of wealth and privilege but when her husband died in New York on September 6, 1878, Harriet at age 42 was left with little money. Most of her husband's money had been lost shortly before his death. Finding herself in modest circumstances she eventually ended up living in the house of a friend, one Arthur Cole and his family.
     As the years passed after her husband's death financial struggles wore her down and by the mid-1886 she was suffering from epileptic attacks, which were followed by what people who knew her described as "periods of mental depression and melancholia."
     About six and a half years before sailing to England to compete in the women's international tournament, she attempted suicide.  Just before Christmas 1890, while living in the house of Arthur Cole, on Sunday morning December 21, the Cole family was ready to have their breakfast but Harriet didn't come down.  They were not alarmed because that was not unusual.  But at about 11:00 a.m. groans were heard from her private room. Alarmed, Alfred Cole Jr. tried to open the door, only to find it locked. The boy then went outside and climbed through Worrall's window, and opened the door for his father.  Harriet was writhing in agony on the floor with a bottle of carbolic acid, a disinfectant, was found open on the table.
     Mr. Cole sent for a doctor who administered emetics and three days later Harriet was still struggling between life and death and the doctor estimated the poison must have been in her stomach for at least twenty minutes; all he could offer was a "possibility" of her recovery. Had she not been found for another half hour, she would have died.  This attempt likely was not a complete surprise as the  Coles had frequently heard her speak of suicide during moments of depression.
     The news regarding her attempted suicide traveled quickly to the chess community and two days before New Year's Eve, the following appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle's chess column: "Mrs. Worrall, a noted woman chess player, who last week attempted suicide during a fit of mental despondency, is in a fair way to recover. Mrs. Worrall was a great admirer and friend of Captain Mackenzie." Captain Mackenzie had died in 1891 and the cause of his death was a matter of speculation.  The New York Times reported on April 27, 1890 that Mackenzie was suffering from tuberculosis, and on April 15, 1891, a day after his death, mentioned that the immediate cause of death was pneumonia, noting that his condition had worsened from a fever caught while visiting Havana. However, on April 29, 1891, The Sun carried a report by Dr. S. B. Minden, who had visited Mackenzie before his death, claiming that he had committed suicide by an overdose of morphine, which he had requested earlier to ease the pain from his tuberculosis, but Dr. Minden had refused. The coroner who had presided over Mackenzie's death dismissed this assertion as ridiculous, insisting that tuberculosis was the cause of death.
     Between January 1891 and mid-1894 Brooklyn's leading chess columns published nothing on her.  Harriet recovered slowly and mid-1894 she was back to chess and was sending solutions to problems given in newspaper columns. In early November of 1894 she visited the masters' tournament that started in New York where Steinitz was among the participants.
     She then began a match for the U.S. women’s championship with Nellie Showalter, the wife of Jackson W. Showalter and a very accomplished player in her own right. The match was for seven games, with twelve moves an hour. When Nellie Showalter was leading 3-1 with one draw, the match was interrupted on account of Nellie Showalter's illness and never resumed. Several accounts point out that because Worrall was a friend of Nellie Showalter she never claimed victory.
     On May 16, 1897 sixty-year old Harriet Worrall boarded a steamer and sailed for England as America's representative at the First Ladies' International Chess Tournament to be held in London that June and July.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that she was optimistic, saying anything less than a first or second prize would be a disappointment.
     The tournament (with Pillsbury acting as arbiter) resulted in Worrall finishing fourth with 13 points out of nineteen games behind Mary Rudge (18½), L. M. Fagan (15½) and Thorold (14). In early September 1897 she returned home disappointed in her performance believing she could have done better had she been more accustomed to playing with a time limit, keeping score and clocks.  She lost a great deal of time in her games simply because she often forgot to stop the clock. Also, eight hours' chess every day, with only a two hour break between games, was very hard on all the players.
     The players were a mixed group and it was confusing to her.  Hertzsch, the youngest, was 18 years old and could not speak a word of English. Lady Thomas was afflicted with a "nervous ailment" which caused her hands to shake constantly when she made her moves; her hair was white and she is nearly 70 years of age.  Muller Hartung of Germany, talked constantly while she was playing against Worrall and in garner conversation was unrestrained while the games were in progress.  Also, during the tournament, the heat was oppressive so that fans were kept running constantly.
     With few opportunities for serious matches or tournament play she made a habit of taking a board against any visiting master visited the Brooklyn Chess Club. There she had the opportunity to play many of them.  In 1894 she lost a game to Albert B. Hodges in a simultaneous exhibition and in she was one of 17 players who played Jackson W. Showalter in another simultaneous exhibition at the local club; she lost a King's Gambit.
     In 1895 she took part in a seven-board simultaneous given by Harry N. Pillsbury and lost. She met Pillsbury again when he gave a 14 board simultaneous to players in consultation at the Brooklyn Chess Club.  During that exhibition Harriet was in consultation with Walter Frère and they held Pillsbury to a draw.
     She also became involved with the British Ladies' Chess Club, curiously enough founded in New York, in 1894 and in 1895 Worrall was behind a "Junior Chess Club," an organization of young people affiliated with the Ladies' Chess Club.
     In 1896, when Jackson W. Showalter gave a fourteen-board exhibition at the Brooklyn Chess Club, Worrall occupied one of the three tables reserved for consultation games and she, again paired with Frère, defeated Showalter.  Later the same year, they lost a fourteen-board simultaneous display by John F. Barry.  Shortly after that she played a board, this time on her own, against Hermann Helms and scored a victory.  The Eagle reported that she was the strongest woman player in the city.
     In 1898 she played in a four-board blindfold simultaneous exhibition given by Albert B. Hodges at the Brooklyn Chess and the same year in consultation with Walter Frère, she took a board in Pillsbury's 27-board simultaneous and was defeated. Two weeks later, on December 17, 1898, when Dawid Janowsky visited the club Worrall and Frère managed a win.
     In 1899, Worrall helped to organize another ladies' chess congress, this time in the United States but nothing came of it  That same year she and defeated Steinitz in a simultaneous.  After that, chess news related to Harriet Worrall becomes scarce.
     She eventually reemerged and on Saturday, March 26, 1910, according to the Eagle of March 27, Worrall was one of the five women among the twenty-eight players, members of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Science, who faced the young Capablanca in simultaneous exhibition; she lost a Sicilian Defense.
     Harriet Worrall died of natural causes in New York at ninety-two, on November 23, 1928.


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