Honoring women’s labor: Elizabeth Wilkinson-Stokes, 18th Century Boxer!
As a Labor Day treat, I thought it might be fun to share historical accounts and commentary about Elizabeth Wilkinson Stokes, generally accepted as the first recorded female boxing champion who took her fists and whatever weapons were handy into the streets of London in the early part of the 18th Century! And yes, that’s 18th Century!
Beginning in the early 1700’s organized “street”-fighting became an early popular form of entertainment in England, and while it had been around even earlier, “bare-knuckle fighting” as it was known then became popularized by James Figg who elevated the sport from one of a working-class free-for-all to a form closer to today’s boxing at his School of Arms and Self Defense.
To quote an article entitled Prize Fighters: Elizabeth Wilkinson-Stokes: The “London Journal” for June 23, 1722, refers to a battle between “two of the feminine gender” who “maintained the battle with great valour for a long time, to the no small satisfaction of the spectators.” After this description the advertisement appeared: “I, Elizabeth Wilkinson of Clerkenwell, who had earlier had some words with Hannah Hyfield, ‘challenged and invited’ her adversary to meet her on the stage for three guineas. Each fighter would hold half-a-crown in each hand and the first to drop the money would lose the battle. Elizabeth Wilkinson won on that day. Shortly after this she beat another lady pugilist from Billingsgate – Martha Jones. The only details of this contest are that it lasted 22 minutes.”
Christopher James Shelton’s article about Elizabeth Wilkinson Stokes entitled 1720’s English MMA Fighter cites numerous historical accounts of her remarkable achievements fighting both men and women. Shelton’s article is informative and details her exploits and the historical context for the 18th Century’s version of pugilism.
Shelton was also recently interviewed on the Ringside Boxing Show about Elizabeth Wilkinson Stokes. To give a listen, the link is here: First Female Fighter, Circa 1720.
An article penned by Lucy, on the Georgian London website provides other fascinating quotes from newspapers and other sources to include this account from 1728 in the Daily Post:
At Mr Stokes’s Amphitheatre in Islington Road, this present Monday, being the 7th of October, will be a complete Boxing Match, by the two following Championesses: Whereas I, Ann Field, of Stoke Newington, ass driver, well-known for my abilities in my own defence, whenever it happened in my way, having been affronted by Mrs Stokes, styled the European Championess, do fairly invite her to a trial of her best skill in Boxing, for 10 pounds; fair rise and fall…I, Elizabeth Stokes, of the City of London, have not fought this way since I fought the famous Boxing Woman of Billingsgate 29 minutes and gained a complete victory….but as the famous ass-woman of Stowe Newington dares me to fight her for the 10 pounds, I do assure her I shall not tail meeting her for the said sum, and doubt not that the blows I shall present her with will be more difficult to digest than any she ever gave her asses.