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  A History of Women in Checkers Draughts is a game that has been enjoyed by families throughout the ages. The hosting of a separate World Women's Championship in recent decades is an acknowledgement of their contribution to the game's history and their growing stature within the game.

Many famous women have left their mark on the history of draughts. Laird and Lady Cather of Cambusnethan, Scotland, are remembered as patrons of the game towards the end of the 18th century. Their fondness for the opening sequence 11-15, 22-17, 8-11, 23-19, 9-13, 17-14 gave this position its name, the "Laird & Lady". We also note that the opening formation of 11-15, 22-17, 8-11, 17-13, 15-18, known as the "Maid Of the Mill," was so named to compliment a miller's daughter who was both partial and adept at playing this opening.

The names of women who played draughts at expert level began to appear in the earliest publications on the game towards the latter part of the 19th century. We note contributions from Miss Barton in Tonar's Draughts Board (England 1869) and problems by Annie Lyons in Draughts World (Scotland 1897). The publication of Gould's Book of Problems, Critical Positions and Games (1894) contained a problem study by Miss Donnan of Rostrevor, County Down, Ireland that showed fine skill in its solution. In America, Stearn's Book of Portraits (1895) listed Mrs. O'Kay as the finest lady checker player in the United States. In Australia and New Zealand, women's accomplishments were also being noted, such as the lady who beat her male opponent in a team match in New South Wales (1894) and the evening when Mr. D. A. Brodie, then New Zealand Champion, was being entertained by the lady players of Otautau when he lost a game to Miss Jessie Hannah.

During the 1920's, we find Mrs. Lucy Smith of Salt Late City being recognized as American Women's Champion after she won a 10 game match against Junius Smith by the score of 1-0-9. In the 1930's, that title was held by Miss Mervin Rae of Waynesboro, North Carolina, who was succeeded by Gertrude Huntley of Minnesota from 1939 onwards. Gertrude Huntley was to become the first woman player to enter an American National Championship when she played at Paxton in 1950, the same year that Mrs. Curran Gadsden of the Southend Pier Draughts Club at Essex won a game against English Champion Samuel Cohen. We note in more recent times that when Charles Walker, founder of the International Checker Hall of Fame, set his world simultaneous record in 1994 by playing 306 games at Dollywood, USA, he won 300, drew 5, and lost just one game - to Mrs. D. Benfatto of Sevierville, Tennessee.

The idea of a separate and distinct Women's World Championship began in the early 1980's when there were a series of matches being played between a number of prominent players in the British Isles, including Joan Caws (Isle Of Wight), Sally Jones (Wales), Ita Napier (Scotland), Brenda Davis (Ireland) and Anita Dore (Ireland). The recently formed United Kingdom and Irish Draughts Federation, in partnership with the American Checker Federation, endorsed this idea and organised the first Women's World Championship tournament, held at Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1986. The competition was won by Joan Caws of the Isle of Wight without the loss of a game, and Joan became the first official Women's World Champion.

Joan Caws made her first title defence in a match against American challenger Faye Clardy in 1987. Joan successfully defended her title by the close score of 6-5-8. Joan made a second defence in 1989 against the newly crowned 13-year-old Irish Women's Champion Patricia Breen of Carlow. This challenge produced one of the games' greatest matches and ended in a tie score of 6-6-8, with the World Champion having to return from five wins down to retain her title by virtue of being undefeated. A re-match between Joan Caws and Patricia Breen took place at Weston-Super-Mare, England, in 1993. Patricia won the coveted title in convincing fashion by the score of 8-1-5.

Patricia Breen's first World Championship defence was in 1995 against her younger sister Karina Breen, who had by now attained the Women's British & Irish Championship title. This unique World Championship Match between these two sisters was contested at the International Checker Hall Of Fame in the USA, with Patricia winning 5-1-10.

Patricia Breen's second defence of the title that she has now held for the past decade came in 2003 at the International Festival of Draughts in Cookstown, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, where, at 27 years of age, she defeated challenger Jan Mortimer of New Zealand by the score of 5-1-10.


This account is taken from 's Background to the 2003 Women's World Championship Match, written for the International Festival of Draughts, held in Cookstown, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, in October 2003.

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