Chess Notes: supplement to C.N. 3612 regarding Birdie Reeve (C.N. 3572)

Jerry Spinrad (Nashville, TN, USA) provides us with a number of quotations from the press about Birdie Reeve, the first being from page 20 of the Washington Post, 30 March 1923, which had a photograph of her and the following caption:

‘Eight hundred strokes to the minute on the typewriter seems more like lightning than typing. Miss Birdie Reeve, world’s fastest and most accurate stenographer. She has a vocabulary of 64,000 words.’

And from page 9 of the New York Times, 21 July 1923:

‘Birdie Reeve, the 16-year-old daughter of Thomas Reeve of New London, Ontario, declares she is the world’s fastest typist. Miss Reeve, whose father says she has mastered a vocabulary of 64,000 words, is willing to back her claim against all comers and has recently challenged George A. Hossfeld, the acknowledged champion. In acquiring her vocabulary, Miss Keene [sic] classified words according to endings and memorized them. She can rattle off a string of “ologies” with the same facility with which other girls her age might “speak a piece”. Nor has she confined her knowledge to the simpler words. Among others which she writes on the typewriter at her regular speed of 20 words [sic] per minute are “orthoethoxymonobenzolyamidoquinoline” and “paraethoxyphenylaminomethanesulphonate”.

Birdie has been eight years in acquiring her knowledge of lexicography and her skill at the typewriter. She went only as far as the sixth grade in school. Her one ambition, she confided, is to be an artist.’

She also began regularly in advertisements, such as the following in the New York Times, 5 August 1923, page X5:

‘Birdie Reeve, “prodigy-marvel”, exemplifies Universcript “Shorthand-in-one-session”: everybody needs it. Reeve, Times Building. Bryant 6498.’

From the New York Times, 15 June 1924, page X4:

‘Birdie Reeve, the 16-year-old typewriting speed champion, will be seen in Keith vaudeville soon.’

And from page E6 of the Chicago Daily Tribune, 20 July 1924:

‘Miss Birdie Reeves [sic], aged 16 years, of St Louis, has been adjudged the world’s fastest typist. She recently demonstrated that she could write at record-breaking speed and at the same time recite Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address”.’

From page RP3 of the New York Times, 10 August 1924 (with photograph):

‘Dr Johnson and the French Academy Outdone: Birdie Reeve, of St Louis, Who at the Age of Seventeen is the Compiler of Eight Dictionaries, as Well as an Expert Two-Fingered Typist With a Speed of Twenty Letters a Second.’

The press then reported that she went on to become a vaudeville star, as the following quotes show:

‘The Earle announces Miss Birdie Reeve, the world’s fastest stenographer, for the week commencing Sunday, 15 November. Miss Reeve is but 16 years of age and will challenge anyone in the world at spelling and typing. She is said to be an unusual and exceptional attraction.’ (Page F2 of the Washington Post, 8 November 1925.)

‘Seeking for the unusual, the Earle management is announcing Miss Birdie Reeve, the world’s champion typist, who violates every typewriting system and, though using only four fingers, has yet to meet the highly-trained typist, with “touch” system and all, who can excel her in the manipulation of the typewriter. Miss Reeve is not yet 18. She writes 250 words a minute, and strikes 800 keys per minute and 20,000 per hour. Her method is unique and interesting. (Washington Post, 12 November 1925, page 9.)

Mr Spinrad notes that on page F2 of the 15 November 1925 issue of the Post she was reported to be ‘holding secondary honors’ at the Earle, the programme being headed by an ‘eccentric dancer’.

‘Sharing honors is Miss Birdie Reeve, who plays on the typewriter like Padarewski on the ivories. Many tired business men gave her work envious glances. (Washington Post, 16 November 1925, page 5.)

‘In Vaudeville. Birdie Reeve, who besides being a champion typist has a vocabulary of 64,000 words, more or less, will be at Eighty-first Street this week to provide upper West-siders with a liberal education twice daily.’ (New York Times, 23 October 1926, page X1.)

‘To replace these names, the vaudeville producers are going in heavily for champions. There have been no shooting show girls yet, but every other conceivable form of championship is being attracted to vaudeville in the effort to replace the holes made by the departure from the two, three, or five a day. Gentleman Jim and Gentleman Gene are in vaudeville; so is Babe Ruth; so is the first Mrs Valentino. A pageant of champions passes before our bewildered eyes this season. Messrs. Dempsey, Tunney, Corbett and Carpentier illustrate the science of boxing. Mr Ruth tells us about home runs. Birdie Reeves [sic], the champion typist, does an incredible number of words per minute on her machine ...’ (New York Times, 23 February 1927, page X2.)

From the Washington Post, 11 November 1928, page A2:

Birdie Reeve, the mental wonder and world’s fastest typist, is appearing in person on the Rialto stage this week. She is credited with a speed record of 250 words a minute. And wouldn’t that warm the heart of any boss? Miss Reeve only uses two fingers on each hand to operate the typewriter, claiming that she has no more use for the other fingers than a centipede for additional legs. When asked how she learned to write so rapidly she says: “By studying words and not the typewriter. I have more than 64,000 words classified into groups, tribes or families. For example, there are 3,362 words ending in the syllable -ation, 638 in -ology, 73 in -itious, etc.” And Birdie repeats enough words in each group to convince her interviewer that she knew what she was talking about. Dexterity with the fingers can be learned much more easily than the knowledge of words necessary to become a good typist, she claims.’

The Washington Post, 11 November 1928, page 12 had an article entitled ‘Masters at Chess Draw with London’, which ended with this reference:

‘Miss Birdie Reeves [sic], one of the best women chess players in America, was also on the scene during the major part of the performance and furnished excellent entertainment for the gathering of fans.’

Page A3 of the same issue had a photograph of her.

A display advertisement from page W9 of the New York Times, 26 April 1931:

Birdie Reeve, famous speed typist and stage celebrity, teaches her system.
1,500 Broadway. BRyant 9-5579.’

Mr Spinrad comments:

‘She is almost certainly the Birdie Reeve Roberts of Chicago who went briefly to jail rather than reveal the whereabouts of her daughter during a messy divorce case. The age is correct. Moreover, the child is called Hope, and the obituary for Birdie’s mother listed a surviving granddaughter as Hope Reeve Chauncey. The divorce case was dealt with in the Chicago Daily Tribune on 23 June, 28 June and 12 July 1935.’

The next item is from the Chicago Daily Tribune of 14 May 1938, page 10:

‘A recent advertisement under “Miscellaneous” in the classified columns of the Tribune: Birdie Reeve, fastest typist, master of English, wants work. It wasn’t so many years ago that Birdie Reeve made front pages. That was when, at 16, she was hailed as the world’s fastest typist. Eight hundred letters a minute; 29,000 thousand taps of the keys an hour was Birdie’s record – may still be, for all we know. Her vocabulary was reputed to be 64,000 words. She appeared in vaudeville demonstrating her system she used only two fingers on each hand ... But there was an ad in Sunday’s paper; Birdie Reeve, fastest typist, wants work.’

The following quotation is from the Chicago Daily Tribune, 23 April 1939, page SW1:

‘Harry H. Kay insisted several months ago on having that middle “H” put in his name on the official roll book of the Hyde Park Lions club. And the reason was explained just a few days ago, according to Amps W. Cole, secretary. It stands for “husband”, Mr Cole insists. Mr Kay made his initial appearance in his new capacity with his bride, the former Miss Birdie Reeve, niece of another local Lion, E.L. Reeve. Mrs Kay, incidentally, is particularly adept at typing and, at demonstrating her ability for the Lions club some time ago, she wrote Lincoln’s Gettysburg address while telling the story of two Irishmen.’

Mr Spinrad points out that she was still ‘Birdie Reeve Kay’ in the obituary of her father, on page 27 of the Chicago Tribune, 29 March 1944, and in the obituary of her mother, in the New York Times of 22 April 1961, page 25.

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