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The History Of Women’s Boxing
July 26, 2017

Women’s boxing has been growing since as early as the 1720’s, when prize fighting took place in fairgrounds across Europe. In this modern day, many women opt into boxing as a form of self-defense, soon realizing that they have a passion for the competitive sport. Many gyms in the UK now offer women-only sessions to encourage women to get involved in the sport and unleash some inner anger. We’ve looked into the history of women’s boxing and realize now that it has a rich heritage with key players that have helped bring the sport to life.  

The first women’s boxing match 

The first women’s US boxing match took place at Hills Theatre, New York in the 1800s. Supposedly, Nell Saunders and Rose Harland fought for a silver butter dish in 1876. Shortly after this match, boxing was banned in Europe and many US states. But that didn’t stop budding female boxers such as the Bennett Sisters, who toured the country in the early 1900s with a Vuadeville boxing showcase. By 1904, women’s boxing exhibitions took place at the Olympic games in St Louis.  

Soon came the time of the suffragettes, fighting for women’s rights anyway they knew how. Many of these were attacked in the streets and abused for trying to campaign for equal rights, causing them to take up women’s boxing to protect themselves. At the time men hated that women were fighting back, and by the 1930s the media represented female boxers in a sexualized way, trying to make the profession into a joke. The media tried to portray female boxers with scantily training gear or catch them in compromising positions, but the dedicated fighters didn’t care and continued anyway.  

Battling Barbara Buttrick 

In 1948 at 15 years old and just 4 foot 11 inches tall, “Battling” Barbara Buttick taught herself how to box, and soon became a women’s boxing legend. Barbara started her boxing career by touring Europe with carnivals, but soon found that boxing in England was a very male dominated sport, and decided to make her way to the United States. By 1954 one of Barbara’s fights was chosen to be televised, and was the first women’s boxing match to ever appear on television. By this time, Barbara had earnt the nickname “The Mighty Atom” and had paved the way for women’s boxing going forward. During Battling Barbara Buttick’s astonishing boxing career, she won 30 battles, drew once and lost once to Joann Hagen. Barbara finally retired in 1960, fighting her last battle whilst 4 months pregnant.

The rise of women’s boxing 

By 1975 two more aspiring and soon to be famous female boxers started appearing on the US boxing circuit. “The female Muhammed Ali” – Jackie Tonawanda was the first women to fight in Madison Square Garden. Shortly after this match, Cat Davis won her case to legally box in the state of New York. She was also the first female boxer to ever appear on the front cover of Ring Magazine. By the early 1990s boxing was accepted as a professional sport and the number of matches rose hugely.  

In 1999 the International Boxing Association approved the first European Cup for women, and by 2001 the first World Championship for women took place. By this time most US states and the UK had accepted female boxing and we’re even encouraging the sport. By 2006 the first professional UK female-boxing title was awarded to Cathy Brown, leading to a huge rise of female boxers between 2006 – 2009.  

As recent as 2010 steps have still been being taken to support women’s boxing, such as the BBC broadcasting women’s boxing live on television for the first time, or the 40% rise in women-only martial arts clubs. By the London Olympic games in 2012 women we’re finally allowed to compete in the boxing category and since then fights have even been hosted a Wembley.  

The rise of women’s boxing has been a long road, but we always encourage women to give it a go… you may find that you love it! If you’re not convinced then why not try a free taster session in your local area from Get Into Martial Arts? Simply type in your postcode and you can get a free class at any of your local clubs that have signed up to the directory, it’s really that easy.
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