Dozens of Victorian women competed in boxing matches, study shows

When imagining the look of the average woman in the Victorian era, people tend to think of someone in a long skirt looking stiff and neat.

What we don’t usually think of is two women stripped to the waist throwing punches at each other.

But a new study has shown how some Victorian women were involved in boxing matches, with 162 prize fights recorded between 1850 and 1900 by academic Dr. Grace Di Méo of the University of Southampton.

The women are said to have defied sexism in society and the press to fight each other – some even competed against men in the ring.

Many followed male fighters’ practice of partially undressing during combat, with one account describing two women being “stripped to the waist”.

A new study has revealed how some Victorian women were involved in boxing matches, with 162 prize fights recorded between 1850 and 1900 by academic Dr. Grace Di Méo have been identified. Above: A female boxer is pictured training in 1890

A new study has revealed how some Victorian women were involved in boxing matches, with 162 prize fights recorded between 1850 and 1900 by academic Dr. Grace Di Méo have been identified. Above: A female boxer is pictured training in 1890

dr Writing in the Journal of Victorian Culture, Di Méo examined 80 of the 162 fights she discovered and recorded in newspapers, police reports and other records.

She said there were likely many more clashes than those she identified.

Of the women that Dr. Di Meo investigated, 96 were known to the authorities and 75 of them were tried in district courts.

70 women escaped authorities entirely, with 29 fleeing the scene when police arrived and eight officers fought back before arrests were made.

The remaining 33 appear to have stopped fighting without the police noticing.

dr Di Meo also found that more than half of the fights – 51 – took place in fields or other areas protected from prying eyes.

A staged scene of two women boxing, two men standing by, filmed in Freshwater, north of Sydney, Australia

A staged scene of two women boxing, two men standing by, filmed in Freshwater, north of Sydney, Australia

Some newspaper reports named those involved in fighting, with one referring to Joanna Heyfield, the “wicker woman”; Martha Jones the “Fish Woman” and Ann Field the “Ass Driver”.

The most common occupation of the fighters was “market woman”, with 38 being designated as such.

A further 33 were referred to as “pugilists” – another name for a boxer – and 21 women were mill workers. Another 13 were domestic workers.

According to a 1902 report in the Yorkshire Evening Post, two women were said to have “bumped, nudged, pulled, pushed, embraced, knelt and generally pushed each other” in a “vain attempt to prove which was the better woman”.

Another fight was arranged when two neighbors who had “bad blood” for each other were encouraged to “fight it out.”

Some women also fight over a man or a child, Dr. Di Meo out.

Women often “fought like men” when fighting each other, with many following the practice of partially undressing.

According to an 1882 report in the Aberdeen Evening Express, two women were said to have “stripped down to the waist” and “shed their earrings, hairpins and finger rings”.

Some women accepted what Dr. Di Meo described as “stereotypically female forms of violence, including hair-pulling, biting and scratching,” with a police officer finding two women with their hands “tightly fastened in each other’s hair.”

Hattie Madders, winner of the Most Scary Woman in the UK title in 1883, was the only woman to hold the world heavyweight boxing title. With the nickname

Hattie Madders, winner of the Most Scary Woman in the UK title in 1883, was the only woman to hold the world heavyweight boxing title. Nicknamed “The Mad Hatter,” she reportedly won the belt in 1883, stopping Scottish pugilist Wee Willy Harris in the first round of their bout

Women also often competed for monetary rewards, with sums ranging from a shilling to the then sizable £10 being offered.

dr However, Di Meo found that only five of the fights she identified involved males versus females, although fights between the sexes were far more common in the 18th century.

And while women who fought in the 18th century were considered glamorous and often celebrated, some of their Victorian counterparts were described as “weak and inept,” said Dr. Meo in her study.

Although a report in the Birmingham Daily Post noted that “women’s ability to be superior to men as pugilists is undisputed,” descriptions of female strength are “often negative,” the scholar added.

The expert said they sometimes implied that “women’s struggles are both a dangerous pastime and one that could undermine patriarchal power.”

Other reports are said to have raised concerns about the emerging empowerment of women, with some tying women’s involvement in struggles to their advancement into the workforce.

One report quotes a fictional conversation between a “Mrs Toogood” and a male fighter, “Broken-face Bill,” in which the woman said she “didn’t see how it was that men could take so much pleasure in such a brutal business how to find the price war.’

Fighter Hattie Stewart, pictured in 1883, traveled the United States fighting with both men and women

Fighter Hattie Stewart, pictured in 1883, traveled the United States fighting with both men and women

A broken-faced Bill then replied that he “doesn’t see how we can help him; Women drive us men out of all professions and there is nothing else for us [sic] do.’

Another newspaper commented that it was “not the first time we’ve heard from women wrestlers” that they insisted that “for our part, we favor women who are less athletic.”

The Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough noted in 1900: ‘A Bedford Street girl told her lover that she was taking sparring lessons and now she wonders why he broke off the engagement.

“Girls should keep such things secret until after marriage.”

But dr Di Meo claims that accounts from the 18th century instead positively described women as strong, courageous, and heroic.

However, decades later these characteristics were also portrayed negatively, according to the expert.

She also highlighted accounts of police officers breaking up fights, with one recounting how a female opponent “had two black eyes that she could barely see out of… [with] Her face was covered in bruises and her mouth was so swollen she could barely make herself understood.’

Another testified that two women were caught “fighting like bulldogs,” with one having “a habit of frequently mistreating and abusing women in the same class as herself.”

He added that she was the “most violent woman he’s ever known.”

Concluding her study, Dr. Di Meo adds: “The evidence suggests that, unlike their 18th-century predecessors, 19th-century female pugilists often faced opposition from the press, police, and judges, and that their violence was seen as an unfeminine trait that challenged contemporary expectations “civilized” behavior.’

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11640671/Dozens-Victorian-women-took-bouts-boxing-study-reveals.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Dozens of Victorian women competed in boxing matches, study shows

Emma Colton

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