Posts Tagged ‘women’s boxing history

07
Jul
13

Brooklyn girlboxing … circa 1932!

Brooklyn girlboxing … circa 1932!

Yep, girlboxing fight fans, boxing matches in Brooklyn are, it turns out, nothing new. Here’s a fabulous one from November 1932! It featured Miss “Tarzan” versus Terrible Tessy Terry. Other fighters on the card were Nancy “The Irish Demon” Clancy and “Furious Lil” Brown.

TheWashingtonReporter.17Nov1932.GirlboxinginBK.Page11

11
Mar
13

Another Female Prize Fight in Manchester, NH, 1860!

Another Female Prize Fight in Manchester, NH, 1860!

Female Prize Fight.31May1860.HolmesCountyFarmer

Women’s boxing, as we know, has a rich, textured history. This piece from 1860 seems to show an actual planned fight. It still used language such as “disgraceful” and “notorius,” but does seem to describe an actual contest rather than an impulsive contest to settle a dispute. As the article notes, “both parties have been training for several weeks past.”

What I find interesting, is that the piece was reprinted in a newspaper in Ohio from the original article in the Manchester Mirror.

07
Mar
13

A Female Prize Fight in Chicago in … 1856!

A Female Prize Fight in Chicago in … 1856!

As many of your know, I am currently writing a book on the history of women’s boxing.

I came across the following about a women’s “prize fight” in 1856!

Enjoy!

Female Prize Fight.16Oct1856.Fayetteville Observer

17
Apr
12

Women have always fought!

Women have always fought!

Female Gladiators, Amazona and Achillia. Marble relief known as the Missio of Halicarnassus depicting two female gladiators. Copyright © The British Museum. Credit: Stephen Murray

Boxing has long been considered a hypermasculine sport harnessing masculine ideals of virility and aggression. It has resonated across millennia as an icon of sacred tradition that stretches as far back as the ancient Greeks with even earlier references to the sport in Mesopotamian cultures.

The earliest known literary reference to boxing is Homer’s depiction of the boxing match at the Funeral of Patroclus in The Illiad. Homer begins this section with the older Nestor’s talk with the Greek hero, Achilles:

My legs no longer firm, my friend, dead on my feet,

Nor do my arms go shooting from my shoulders—

the stunning punch, the left and right are gone.

Oh make me young again, and the strength inside me

steady as a rock! (Homer, The Iliad 579)

When thinking about martial contests, however, what might not be so readily apparent is that women have also enacted one or another form of martial ritual including boxing for just as long.

Accounts of Spartan educational regimens for young women in the same time period as The Iliad show that young female Spartans were trained for fighting in the same short tunic[1] as young men and competed against them during training on a regular basis. The Roman poet Propertius also wrote of women with their “arms [bound] with thongs for boxing.”

Other forms of Greco-Roman cultural representations include the marble relief sculpture depicting two female gladiators known as the Missio of Halicarnassus from the first or second century CE and the black-figured hydria of Atalanta and Peleus Wrestling from 550 BCE.

Atalanta wrestling Peleus, Chalcidian black-figure
hydria C6th B.C., Antikensammlungen, Munich, Credit: http://www.theoi.com

Based on the myth of Atalanta, the hydria depicts her defeat of Peleus in a wrestling match at the funeral games of King Pelias. Given the importance of Funeral Games as “symbolic conflict” that both stand in for actual combat (the physical clashing of the bodies) and as a contest of honor, wherein the vanquished is raised up by the victor, the inclusion of female figures in such representations is certainly provocative.

Diana of Versailles, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France, Credit: http://www.theoi.com

However, given that Atalanta is also depicted as a particular favorite of Artemis, Goddess of both the hunt and maidenhood, we can begin to tease out a notion of gender identity in Greco-Roman culture which allows for a “third way” if you will: that of the maiden huntress/warrioress that also links to the myth of the Amazons.

The warrior women, variously described as a tribe of gyno-centric warrior females were quoted by Herodotus as saying “We would find it impossible to live with [other] women, because our practices are completely different from theirs. We haven’t learnt women’s work. We shoot arrows, wild javelins, ride horses—things which your women never have anything to do with.”

It can be argued that such depictions are liminal, based on a time between girlhood and motherhood. In this in-between space these young women are depicted as small breasted and virginal, thus creating an otherness between maleness and femaleness, on the order of Goddess Artemis and Diana. The status of these figures makes them free to hunt and even pursue martial enactments of maleness, however, the price of doing so is to remain pre-sexual.

Statue of a wounded Amazon, 1st–2nd century A.D.
Roman copy of a Greek bronze statue, ca. 450–425 B.C.
Marble. Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The myth of Atalanta is a perfect embodiment of this ideal. Atalanta enacts warriorness side-by-side with her shipmates Jason and the Argonauts, but can only do so as long as she remains a virgin. The depiction of the mythic women also inevitably shows them in short tunics rather than in long ankle length skirts – thus clearly mimicking the dress of Artemis and Diana. And in some cases, representing a depiction of actual cross-dressing: wearing a short tunic skirt instead of a long skirt.  It should be noted that there are figures of Artemis in a long gown, however, those skirts typically open and show that she is free to run.

To my way of thinking, these are important threads in considering the significant place of female fighting figures historically.


___

[1] Spartan training of young girls was also under the influence of the Goddess Artemis who was often depicted in a short tunic. Throughout Greece, girls participated in formal Games (though not the Olympics) primarily in foot races with aspects of religious ritual associated with such participation.

Work Cited

Boddy, Kasia. Boxing: A Cultural History. London: Reaktion Books Ltd. 2008. Print.

Herodotus. The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories. Fifth Impression Edition. Eds. Robert B. Strassler. Trans. Andrea L. Purvis. New York: Pantheon (2007). Print.

Homer. The Iliad. Deluxe Edition. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Books, 1998. Print.

Murray, Stephen. “Female Gladiators of the Ancient Roman World.” Journal of Combative Sport. July 2003. Web. 12 Mar. 2012.

Papadopoulos, Maria. “The Women in Ancient Sparta: The Dialogue between the Divine and the Human.” SPARTA 6.2 (2010): 5-10. Print.

Plutarch, The Parallel Lives. Loeb Classic Library Edition. N.P. 1914. Uchicago.edu Web. 18 Sept. 2011.

07
Jan
12

Your great-grandmother was a boxer too!

Your great-grandmother was a boxer too!

Having spent the better part of four months living and breathing women’s boxing from the perspective of gender (i. e., the only “acceptable” female boxer is a “girly-girl” boxer in pink and other such canards) — I thought it might be fun to remind folks that female boxers have been around for a LONG time.  Here are a few samples from newspaper articles published around the country in the early part of the 20th century (click on the links).

An uppercut from the fair fighter’s fist

This article from The Hartford Herald was published on May 1, 1912 and describes a 7th round knockout by Myrtle Havers, 18 over Mabel Williams, 32  in a 10-round professional fight in Saginaw, Michigan.  In declaring Havers the winner, she was also named the girls champion of Michigan.

“The two fought with eight-ounce gloves and under straight Queensbury rules.  Miss Williams, who has been known as the best woman boxer in Michigan for several years, was knocked into dreamland with a stiff uppercut after she had severely thrashed Miss Havers in the early part of the seventh round.”

This woman boxer weighs 105 and has met two champions

An article advocating women’s physical culture appeared in The Tacoma Times on November 27, 1917.  The article is about boxer Helen Hildreth.  When asked if she had ever been hit hard she replied, “Yes, but that’s part of the game. The excitement and nervous tension you are under when you are boxing makes you forget the pain of a blow almost as soon as you feel it.”

Woman boxer invites bout

Published in The Ogden Standard-Examiner on March 22, 1922, this article chronicles Elkhart, Indiana’s hope for a female boxing champion in the person of Gertrude Allison, 25 who challenged New York’s Laura Bennett to a fight!  Check out the photo in the article.  Allison is quoted as saying, “I know I can lick her!”

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.





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© 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.

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