08
Aug
13

Another chapter done … a history of women’s boxing

Another chapter done … a history of women’s boxing

Dixie Dugan

Dixie Dugan, Comic Book #1, Issued July 2, 1942, one of several comic books during the war years that featured women as strong fighters.

Hattie Stewart, 1883

Hattie Stewart, 1883, published in the National Police Gazette. She was one of two fighters who were known as the Female John L. Sullivan. The other was Hattie Leslie.

The process of writing a book is humbling (as in the magnitude of the task), daunting (as in a HUGE undertaking), exciting (researching and finding tiny pearls are truly the cookies), maddening (as in losing my way) and ultimately immensely satisfying with the proviso that you see humbling.

Writing a history of women’s boxing which has to be teased out of endless newspaper stories, still images, and bits of surviving slim and distant memories, is particularly so.  I worry that I won’t get it right, or in delving into one subject or another, that I’ll be tickling my own fancy to the point where the random reader will exclaim “WTF” never to crack the book open again.

Fact checking is also difficult (see daunting), but one does find a rhythm and learns to use phrases such as “it has been said” or “it was dubiously reported” … and so on.

What’s extraordinary to me is that women have persevered in a sport that loved to hate them.

In the late 1800s to early 1900s, that meant that women didn’t have the chance to fight professionally so they took to the variety theater stage instead.

Hattie Stewart was one boxer who plied the boards in the era. She and another fighter named Hattie Leslie were both known as the “Female John L. Sullivan.”  The never did meet in combat, though they called each other out in the boxing press. Unfortunately, Hattie Leslie passed away in 1892 from a sudden illness, so the fight of the dualing female Sullivan’s never did happen.

It’s also amazing to me that the writer Djuna Barnes penned articles about boxing–both from the point of view of being a spectator (My Sisters and I at the Prizefights) and in two interviews: one with Jess Willard not too long after he defeated Jack Johnson in 1915 (Jess Willard Says Girls Will be Boxing For A Living Soon) and one with Jack Dempsey published in 1921 (Jack Dempsey Welcomes Women Fans).

I find I have favorites too among the women I am writing about.

Belle Martell loses license.SANJoseEveningNews.27May1940.Page4.googleBelle Martel, the first female boxing referee, is someone I just adore.

She was a vaudvillian who met her husband Art, a former boxer, during her show business career. As the business died out with the advent of Talkies, she and Art settled in Van Nuys, California. He started a gym and began training youngsters how to box. Before long, she was in there with him and the two of them became very well known for the quality of the amateur boxing shows they put on–but really it was all Belle.

By 1940 she’d been a trainer, a boxing announcer, a time keeper, and as of April 1940, a duly licensed referee by the state of California Athletic Commission. Unfortunately, the hue and cry among certain folks in the boxing establishment and the press caused the Commission to issue a new rule less than a month later forbidding women from officiating at men’s fights. It was truly a blow to her heart, but she persevered and along with her husband opened the Martell Arena–fondly known as Belle’s Arena.

Gussie FreemanI also love Gussie Freeman (sometime known as Loony) who fought against Hattie Leslie in 1892 shortly before Hattie’s death.

They had a four-rounder at a theater on Grand Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that was talked about for decades.

It was the kind of fight that tall tales were made for.

On the first telling Gussie, her blond hair in a tizzy, barely made it into the third round before the fight was called.

A second telling had the two of them nearly spent,  after going four hard rounds that ended in a draw.

And by the next telling–Gussie soundly defeated Hattie in the fourth with a resounding knock out blow!

Whatever the real outcome of the bout, it gave Gussie, a rope maker on the docks at Newtown Creek, the chance to travel as far west as Chicago when she signed to fight in Hattie Leslie’s show. Gussie also earned enough money to open a bar for a while, until with the money gone, she went back to the ropewalk. Along the way she made a lot of people smile and fifty years after her fight, it was still fondly remembered.

I’ve got a way to go–and a hard deadline coming up, but when I feel overwhelmed by it all, I just think of the sheer nerve of those women and push on.

They are truly my heroines–every last one.


6 Responses to “Another chapter done … a history of women’s boxing”


  1. August 9, 2013 at 11:52 am

    This is awesome! I love the picture of Hattie Stewart and the snippets of women’s boxing history that you provide here. I look forward to reading your book.

    • August 9, 2013 at 5:45 pm

      Thanks so much. I agree the picture of Hattie Stewart is amazing. I love her intention! She use to fight mostly women, but did fight men occasionally as well!

  2. August 10, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    Ever since you started posting the news clippings offering glimpses of the women’s boxing scene in previous centuries I’ve been dying to know the whole story. I want to read this book like crazy.

  3. September 2, 2013 at 12:45 am

    Speaking of Golden Age comics, Wonder Woman herself was known to slip on the gloves every now and then: http://shehulk.sliverofice.com/wonder-woman-wednesdays-wonder-woman-2-part-4-of-4/


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


August 2013
M T W T F S S
« Jul   Dec »
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,811 other followers

Girlboxing Now! on Twitter

@Girlboxingnow

Share this blog!

Bookmark and Share
free counters
Blog Directory

Blog Stats

  • 449,667 hits

Twitter Updates

© Malissa Smith and Girlboxing, 2010-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Malissa Smith and Girlboxing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,811 other followers

%d bloggers like this: