Posts Tagged ‘Barbara Buttrick

25
Jun
14

Here’s to the ladies who punch …

Here’s to the ladies who punch …

A History Of Women's Boxing

Today’s my big day.

The culmination of over two years of work on my new book, A History Of Women’s Boxing.

I get to strut my stuff in the ring at Gleason’s Gym and speak to an audience of assembled friends about the courage, bravery and pure gumption that women have shown for the past three hundred years each time they’ve donned the gloves. Oh yes, and smile a lot, sign books and jump around with glee!

It’ll be a moment to savor — though I admit to a plethora of doubts:  Did I get everything right? Did I forget someone? Did I make the point about pushing social and legal boundaries enough? Will the reader understand just how brave it was for a young and plucky Barbara Buttrick to insist that she had the right to box in 1949?

The historian’s lament plagues me a bit too. There’s never enough time or materials or opportunities to interview — except perhaps if the historian is Robert Caro, be still my historian’s heart.

The writing process is also a marathon battle — reminiscent of the endless rounds of the bare knuckle boxing era.  If we consider that there are “championship rounds in boxing” — of which Layla McCarter knows a thing or two having insisted on the right to fight 12 three-minute rounds more than once —  plowing through a writing project that is voluminous in the best sense nonetheless gets very, very tough as it heads towards the final chapters.  In my case I overwrote by about two hundred pages, which necessitated a mad scramble to cut, cut, cut. Talk about taking shots — those words were my children, and in my “humble” opinion, the points made were as important as any in the final cut of book, but like any gut shot, one sucks it up and moves on because that’s what happens.

If the writing was at times an arduous task, the overriding sensation, however, was one of deep, deep respect for the women who ply their trade as boxers — such that the project became a true labor of love.  Just the act of climbing through the ropes is, in my estimation, a resounding statement of defiance against the strictures that continue to be imposed on women as they go about their work-a-day worlds — nevermind what that meant in the 1970s when women took to the courts to gain the right box.

It still boggles the mind that women’s amateur fighting was virtually illegal in the United States until 1993 when a young 16-year-old girl named Dallas Malloy sued for the right to compete, not to mention Dee Hamaguchi who opened up the right for women to fight in New York’s Golden Gloves in 1995.

I mean what was that? Amateur boxing was illegal which meant women had no safe means of learning to compete other than to turn pro? Hmmm.

I’ll add that the quickest way to become a feminist is to take on a history of women’s anything project.  Talk about a wake up call! Wow!

Gussie Freeman

As I wrote the book, I admit to having favorites, women like Belle Martell who not only was the first licensed referee in the state of California, but who was also a promoter for amateur fights, took the tickets and then jumped in the ring in a ball gown to announce the bouts–the first women to do so. Belle also tried really hard to promote women in the ring in the early 1950s with the idea that they’d save a sport that was dying on the vine due to television. Gussie Freeman was another one. Talk about a character, she boxed briefly in the 1890s, but made such an impression people still remembered her 50 years later.

Dixie Dugan

When I was a kid, our history textbooks consisted of stories of kings and queens, generals and presidents, with very little about the men and women whose lives collectively swayed the shape of society as the centuries passed.

As a microcosm of society, the history of boxing provides an interesting perspective on social interactions between people, the power of popular culture and issues of race, class and the exploitation of labor. Throwing women into that mix provides a more nuanced understanding of those same issues. For one, women’s spectatorship became an important ingredient in developing boxing as a sport from the 1790s on!

The image of a woman in boxing gloves also became a potent symbol of the changing place of women in western society at points in history, most notably in the period between 1880s and the end of World War II when the place of women was upended in a clear line.

That we still question the place of women in the ring today is just as telling. Yes, there were and are those who object to boxing period no matter who contests the fight, but the notion that female boxing is an anathema still seems to finds its place in the conversation about the sport, which goes to the heart of the argument about the “place” of women in society. Ugh …  still?

Regardless, women push through it all anyway and climb through the ropes knowing their muscles have been honed into perfect boxing shape to leave it all in the ring having given their very best.

All I can say is that I am very, very proud to have contributed in some way to sing their praises.  And yep, here’s to the ladies who punch!

Links to purchase the book:

Barnes and Noble.com 

Amazon.com

03
Feb
14

Women’s Wrestling in the 1950s …

Women’s Wrestling in the 1950s …

1953 Wrestling Poster

Wrestling stars such as Mary “The Fabulous Moolah” Ellison, June Byers, Millie Stafford, Mildred Burke, Ella Waldek, Mae Young and former boxer Bonnie Bartlett were wrestling stalwarts in the later 1940s and on through 1950s. A strong sponsoring group, the National Wrestling Association (NWA) offered a system of championship belts that helped these fighters along. Wrestling also enjoyed a network of wrestling promoters that kept the sport in the spotlight—some of whom also promoted boxing and vice versus, as well as small regional and local promoters who ran fight nights. Such publications as Boxing and Wrestling magazine also published weekly “Gal Grappler Ratings” and along with the NWA Official Wrestling magazine, and Boxing-Illustrated Boxing and Wrestling, published articles about female practitioners of both sports including such notables as South Bend, Indiana boxer Phyllis Kugler.

Art female wrestlers 1950's http://soberinthecauldron.blogspot.com/2011/10/vault.html

Art female wrestlers 1950’s. Photo Credit:soberinthecauldron.blogspot.com

The public’s appetite for professional wrestling was enormous and had been gaining since the 1930s. The price of admission was cheap. The post-war years, however, saw a tremendous gain with new and innovative tricks and flourishes in the ring including tag-team wrestling (featuring pairs of wrestlers, with one of each pair on the apron and the other partner fighting each other in the ring), mix-gender wrestling (featuring large women and small men), exaggerated movements giving rise to abject clowning and grandiose body slams, and costuming and masks. This emphasis on entertainment developed to compete for the shrinking pool of dollars available against the rise of the movie going culture—and as the 1950s wore on, against television.

The presence of bathing-suit clad women, some in two-piece outfits only seemed to enhance the circus-like atmosphere of the wrestling ring and certainly pushed the boundaries of women’s participation in combat sports in general. While women as well as men participated in the system that dictated who would win and who would lose on any given card, the physical prowess and skill necessary to put on a wrestling show was enormous. The risks were also great and led to the death of an 18-year-old wrestler named Janet Boyer Wolfe on July 28, 1951 at a tag-team wrestling benefit held in honor of the Shrine Club in Easter Liverpool, Ohio.

In this period, wrestling shows often featured fighters participating in more than one bout on a card. On the evening of her death, Wolfe had fought a bout against Ella Waldek, a wrestler renowned for her technical skills. After losing the match, Wolfe apparently complained of a mind-numbing headache, but insisted on coming out for the second match—a tag-team bout. Wolfe was partnered with wrestling star Eva Lee to fight against Waldek and another well-known fighter, Mae Young.

At the start of the match Wolfe was in the ring against Young, but after a short period of time she caught her teammate Lee’s attention and tagged out. Standing on the lip outside the ring, Wolfe held onto the ropes and then visibly collapsed onto the edge, startling the crowd, before sliding down onto the ground. By the time the doctor came to her side she had already lost consciousness—and though taken to the hospital quickly, she died in the early morning hours having slipped into a coma. An autopsy revealed a subdural hematoma, as well as a rupture in her stomach. Much attention was paid to Waldek who had body slammed Wolfe in the first match—and all three women who fought in the tag-team match were initially held for possible manslaughter charges. Much later, it came out that Wolfe had been complaining about headaches for weeks, but they were never attended to. Despite this, the fans felt that it was all Waldek’s fault and she bore the moniker of “murderer” for the rest of her career as a wrestler.

A recent documentary entitled Lipstick and Dynamite provides a wonderful portrait of these early pioneers of the wrestling ring. Their presence in the ring also helped pave the way for female boxers across the country–and also provided opportunities to compete to such early boxing luminaries as Barbara Buttrick and JoAnn Hagen. The Fabulous Moolah also helped promote female wrestler/boxers during the first big wave of female boxing in the 1970s.


Sources

Jeff Leen. Queen of the Ring: Sex, Muscles, Diamonds and the Making of an American Legend. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. 2009. Page 164.

02
Oct
11

A Bit of Women’s Boxing History.

A Bit of Women’s Boxing History.

Joann Hagen and Pat Emerick, 1950's

I’ve been writing about boxing most of the day in preparation for a presentation I’m giving on boxing at my college in October. I’m also finishing up the first chapter of my thesis entitled “Boundaries in Motion: Women’s Boxing.”

What I’m most intrigued by is the number of women who’ve been boxing throughout the centuries.  Like many disenfranchised groups, they have fought under the radar so to speak for a lot of the time, but have also had their exploits written about or interpreted as cultural representations in one form or another.  Here’s a smattering (note that references have been removed, however, if anyone is interested drop me an email):

Women's Boxing, 19th Century

Women fighters of this era beginning in 1876, included Nell Saunders who purportedly out fought Rose Harland in the first “official” female bout in the United States at Hill’s Theater in New York.  Other important fighters included Hattie Stewart, the first female world boxing champion, and Britain’s Polly Fairclough from a family of well-known boxers and wrestlers.  Polly was renowned for her prowess as both a boxer and a Greco-Roman wrestler, and holds the distinction of having been the first female to fight at London’s National Sporting Club (she fought against men), and purportedly put on an exhibition bout with Jack Johnson in Dublin.

In the modern context, there have been women professional boxers in and around professional boxing since the 1920’s in the United Kingdom, France and the United States.  During this period in Britain women’s participation in boxing was “characterized as disreputable and dangerous and self-contained in working-class venues.”  Prize fighting as an acceptable entertainment for women, however, was taking hold through such things as the advent of charity fights to aid the war effort during the first World War “under the auspices” of such societal luminaries as Anne Morgan, “the philanthropic sister of J. Pierpont Morgan.”   

Women's Boxing, 1920's

With attendance, came the notion of making the sport an avenue from crossing class barriers to the “carriage” trade.  In particular, to promote a Jack Dempsey bout, his manager “Tex Richard made special arrangements for women spectators,” calling it a “‘Jenny Wren’ section.”  Women also reported on boxing, most notably Katherine Fullerton Gerould who famously wrote about the Jack Dempsey versus Gene Tunney fight in 1926 for Harper’s.  Pockets of women’s boxing subcultures began to sprout up as well.  As noted by Kate Sekules in her book, “The Boxer’s Heart,” this included the Flint, Michigan “stenographer-pugilists” known as the “Busters Club.”  There was also a rise in popularity of boxing exercises in the United States and Europe during the interwar period and the emergence of “girls’ boxing troupes,”  that appeared on otherwise all male fight cards. (All Girl Bands also enjoyed some popularity at this time as popularized in the 1959 gender-bending film Some Like It Hot.) 

Barbara Buttrick (L)

In the late 1940’s and 1950’s Britain’s Barbara Buttrick, a 4’11” fighter with a powerful jab known as “The Mighty Atom,” took up the sport having read about the exploits of Polly Burns.  She found a trainer in London (whom she eventually married) and set out to have a career as a fighter mostly on vaudeville stages and other exhibition venues in England. After arriving in the United States in the 1950’s, however, Buttrick was able to push the sport by finding other women boxers who were going along the same path – and fighting men, one step ahead of the boxing commissioners who continued to keep the female sport underground. Still, she was able to draw large crowds and had the first televised female bout in 1954.  There were also a smattering of big crowd draws, along with a growing number of professional fighters who plied the canvas in the 1960’s and 1970’s to include such boxers as Sue “Tiger Lily” Ryan a true trailblazer for the sport of women’s boxing and such fighters as Caroline Svendsen, the first woman fighter to be licensed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission in 1975 and Pat Pindela, the first woman fighter to be licensed in California in 1976.





April 2019
M T W T F S S
« Jan    
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
2930  

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

Join 3,580 other followers

Girlboxing Now! on Twitter

@Girlboxingnow

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

Share this blog!

Bookmark and Share
free counters
Blog Directory

Blog Stats

  • 758,609 hits

Twitter Updates

© Malissa Smith and Girlboxing, 2010-2015. 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.

%d bloggers like this: