Nellie Showalter Flashes Ankle, Defeats World Chess Champ; Jackson Whipps Showalter Guffaws

Nellie Showalter: Queen Of Chess, Flasher Of Ankles

The story of Jackson Whipps Showalter – Chess Champion, Curve Ball Pioneer, Cigar Aficionado recounted the exploits of a male ancestor of mine, but it turns out that not only was Jackson Showalter quite a fellow but his wife, Nellie Showalter, was a heck of a gal as well.

Chess Notes Archives contributes information about Jackson’s immediate family and this photo of his wife, Nellie.

nellieshowalterThis photograph is of Mrs Showalter, from page 138 of the December 1904 American Chess Bulletin. The following page described her as ‘without doubt the strongest player of her sex in America’ and reported:

‘Mrs Showalter comes of a prominent Kentucky family, but was born in the state of Missouri in 1872; although her maiden name was Nellie Love Marshall, she claims no family relationship with the new champion bearing the same surname.’

From page 7 of the January 1894 BCM: ‘She is only 22 years of age and was married to him [Jackson Whipps Showalter] at 16. Soon after this event her husband taught her the moves, and then gave her the odds of the queen; but she progressed so rapidly that he cannot now give her the knight, and she has won two games of Mr Lasker [Emanuel Lasker was World Chess Champion for from 1894 to 1921] at that odds. Not long ago, at Kokomo, Indiana, she played four games on even terms with Mr Jackson, the champion of that State, with the result that she won three and the other was drawn. She is said to be very handsome but, if so, the portrait of her in the New York Recorder does not do her justice …’

A photograph of their son, Freeman Showalter, who was born in 1895, was published on page 228 of the November 1918 American Chess Bulletin, where he was described by J.W. Showalter as follows: ‘He plays a very good, unpolished and natural game, but without any book training or knowledge acquired from books at all. I think he has considerable talent, in fact, but, of course, undeveloped.’

With respect to Jackson and Nellie, Brennen adds that

[Also in 1884,] Showalter moved .. to Laredo, Texas, to oversee some of his father’s holdings there. He also married; his wife, Nellie, eventually learned the game from him, and developed enough prowess to defeat Emanuel Lasker at odds of a Knight.

Nellie herself commented on that match In an 1894 interview:1

When I first came to New York I played with Mr. Lasker a match of five games up. He gave the odds of a knight and I beat him five to two. Lasker had beaten everybody in Germany and England, then he came and beat my husband, and his astonishment, he said, was great that I could whip him with the odds he gave me.2

Lasker offered another perspective on Nellie’s strategy in their games:

At the critical juncture in the games, Mrs. Showalter would smile coyly, and then flash a bit of ankle. I was extremely flustered by such antics. When I complained to Mr. Showalter, he just guffawed and said, ‘My Nellie is such a card! Have a cigar’.”3

Nellie Showalter Vs Harriet Worrell


This account of the 1984 epic chess confrontation is excerpted from Nellie by SBC (aka batgirl) at Chess.com:

In 1894 Nellie Love Marshall Showalter, the wife of then U.S. Chess Champion, Jackson Whipps Showalter, played Mrs. Harriet Worrell, the wife of the renowned chess player, Thomas Herbert Worrall, a match for the U.S. Women’s Championship. The match ultimately was left unfinished due to Mrs. Showalter’s illness, but with Mrs. Showalter leading with a decisive score of 3½ to 1½.

In the 1894 American Chess Magazine, G.D.H.Gossip wrote:

“Mrs. Showalter, the wife of the present American champion, whose portrait we give, is the present lady champion, and although only twenty-two, has signalized herself by beating Lasker in a match at the odds of a Knight by five to two games. In a subsequent match at Kokomo, Ind., she easily defeated Mr. C.O. Jackson, drawing the first game and winning the next three games right off. She also won a majority of games of Mr. Arthur Peter, who took first prize in the “Free-for-all” Tourney at Kokomo. She has now been challenged by Mrs. Worrall; but at present holds the title of “queen of chess” …

The American Chess Bulletin of 1904 gives the following … information:

… This fair devotee is a natural player, never having studied the books. Instead she picked up the rudiments of the game easily and rapidly and improved by imitating the methods of leading experts, especially those of her husband, playing purely by common sense and intuition.”

Nellie Love Marshall was born in Brookfield, Linn County, Missouri on August 19, 1870. She died at age 76 in Scott Co., Kentucky on March 25 of 1946. Her husband, whom she married on Feb. 28, 1887 (she had just turned 16), was Jackson Whipps Showalter, born in Minerva, Kentucky on Feb. 4, 1860. He was 14 years older and died in 1935. They had three children, all sons: Freeman Benoni Showalter (Aug. 16, 1895), John William Showalter (Aug. 16, 1904), and James Watterson Showalter (Dec., 1906).

The New Review, 1894 – Ladies As Chess-Players:

… But to see two ladies engaging in a right down serious set match, recorded regularly by the Press, and to see these ladies play the close openings usual in match play, as if to the profession born, is indeed an advance in the practice of the game by lady enthusiasts. Such a match is now being played at New York, the combatants being Mrs. Worrall and Mrs. Showalter. The first game of this noteworthy contest is a careful, deliberate, and hard-fought battle, which would do credit to many a minor master, Mrs. Worrall certainly showing greater enterprise and readiness. She obtained the best game by very fine play, but rather hurriedly gave up the exchange on her thirtieth move. Mrs. Worrall lost simply because her opponent possesses greater capacity for taking pains. This is evident from comparing the time used by both ladies—Mrs. Worrall, two hours ; Mrs. Showalter, four hours ten minutes. An extra hour’s deliberation devoted to the game would, no doubt, deservedly have secured the victory for Mrs. Worrall. It must not be forgotten, however, that the latter, lady is by a great many years the senior of Mrs. Showalter, and youth will tell—especially in procuring mates.

SBC/batgirl, writing in another section of Chess.com offers this description of Nellie from the Evening Bulletin (Maysville, Ky. : 1887):

March 18, 1896: Mrs. Nellie Marshall Showalter is perhaps the most accomplished woman chessplayer in the world. … Mrs. Showalter is a Southern belle, with a petite figure and a charming manner. She is at present in Kentucky, but. expects to go East in a few weeks for the purpose of tuning part in the international chess match by cable which will be contested in April between the women of England and America.

And again from SBC/batgirl, writing in still another section of Chess.com references another contemporary article, Women Chess Players from the Mansfield Daily Shield, Dec. 21, 1894:

Mrs. Showalter is a Kentuckian and possessed of all the Kentucky woman’s charms. “Don’t say that my husband won me at a game of chess,” said she, when interviewed, and her big blue eyes opened wider in her excitement. “Let me see. I was married at sixteen and now am twenty- three, that makes seven years’ playing with the champion chess player of the United States. It would be funny if I did not know a little, would it not? I never played with a woman before and would not have thought of challenging Mrs. Worrall. I always think I see ahead about eight moves; sometimes I don’t carry right, but more often I do. When I make a blunder it makes me ill.”

Mrs. Showalter is petite with golden brown, curly hair. She wears when at play a simple black blouse and greenish gray skirt, plain and of light weight, clearing the floor. Her curls are pushed back and caught up with a jeweled comb. She takes off all her rings but two, a plain circle of gold and a gem setting.

At half-past two o’clock the ladies enter the parlor of 438 West Twenty-third street, when playing in New York, each taking her place at the board. Mrs. Showalter sets her feet firmly, and resting her elbows on the table, runs her fingers up through her wealth of hair. If the game is long and exciting, before its close the comb falls to the floor and the mass of curls rests on her shoulders in wild confusion, each ringlet seemingly aiming to reach the chess board and assist its mistress to win the game.

Mrs. Showalter has a dimpled face rather round and exceedingly sweet in expression. Her eyes are large and limpid and violet blue in color. Her complexion is fresh and ruddy, and she speaks in contralto tones, with a slow, measured thoughtfulness for which no one is ever prepared. It is naturally supposed that a quick impulsiveness goes with the makeup of such a vivacious little body.

Oh, those Showalters…

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  1. From a separate posting by the same source, SBC/batgirl, writing in Chess.com , the interview referenced here appears to be Women Chess Players from the Mansfield Daily Shield, Dec. 21, 1894. []
  2. Post by SBC/batgirl September 24, 2010 at Chess.com []
  3. Post by SBC/batgirl September 24, 2010 at Chess.com []

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