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Unorthodoxx Presents a History of Womens Boxing (Part 1)

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

Women’s boxing has made an impressive rise in the past decade and it is great to see the opportunities now being provided around the world. Women participating in boxing can be traced back to the 18th century with women even stepping in the ring to fight men as equals. Thankfully, we are now seeing more equality and inclusion from prestigious competitions to a rise in female participation at a grassroots level.

The following blog explores our journey from the murky origins of prizefighting through to world championship boxing promotions of the present day.

The first women to step into the boxing ring

Like much of boxing’s earliest history, there is much debate regarding who was the first ever female boxer. Many believe it was Elizabeth Wilkinson, known as the “European Championess”, who apparently started bare-knuckle fighting in 1722. Wilkinson’s first opponent was Hannah Hyfield. They fought a 22-minute boxing match that took place in London in which Wilkson emerged victorious. Just like today’s boxers, Wilkson used her wicked words to lash at her opponent and made headlines in the London Journal. Although Wilkinson mainly boxed other females it was reported that she also traded punches with male boxers.

The concept of bare-knuckle fighting was popularised around the same time by James Figg and developed from the streets of London to more secure competition and defense teaching.

In the 19th century, women’s boxing was largely prohibited in Europe and in most of the United States. However, at the New York Hills Theatre, Nell Saunders and Rose Harland boxed the first female boxing match in the US in 1876. The winner, Nell Saunders, won a silver butter dish.

However, the early rises of boxing for women was soon to come to a swift end. Following the introduction of the Queensbury rules in 1865, which introduced boxing gloves and timed rounds, the rules and regulation of the sport increased. By 1880, women boxing in Britain had been banned.

Despite women early encounter with boxing gloves only lasting for five brief years the introduction of boxing gloves was a historic moment for the sport. The boxing gloves made boxing a safer sport and civilised. Unorthodoxx continues to provide safety to women boxers through our wide range of boxing gloves, wraps and pelvic guards available here.

Olympic’s bid and televised womens boxing

In 1904, Women’s and men’s boxing appeared for the first time at the 1904 Olympic Games in St Louis. Following this, men’s boxing was accepted into the Olympics, but women’s boxing was not. Unfortunately, this marked how the 20th century would receive female boxing and fail to provide the exposure it deserved.

The lack of professional and amateur competitions made the sport rather controversial for women to take part in. In the 1920’s, Andrew Newton formed a women’s boxing club in London which encouraged more women to practice the sport. Shortly after this, exhibition matches were organised but eventually banned by the government and legislation determining the matches to be ‘disgraceful’. For the next thirty-year, boxing continued to grow, despite government and legislation discouraging it.

In 1954, Barbara Buttrick became the first female boxer to be broadcast on national television. Buttrick was fighting as a 98-pound flyweight, standing at only four feet and eleven inches. Fighting out of East Yorkshire, Buttrick started boxing when she was 15 and sought out an opportunity to pursue boxing in the United States in 1952. Her fight against Jo Ann Hagen was broadcast on national television in the USA, but Buttrick was defeated in a unanimous points decision. However, Buttrick would make a comeback ad eventually to become the first female world champion in boxing in 1957. She went on to enjoy a successful 15-year career in the sport as a flyweight and bantamweight. This was the first real acceptance for women in competitive boxing. Since retiring, Buttrick has been an asset to women’s boxing and even founded the International Women’s Boxing Federation in 1989.

Reward and recognition for womens boxing

In 1975, many of the United States allowed women to box and issued licences to women practicing the sport. In the same year, Eva Shain became the first ever female boxing judge. Shain would go on to judge over 50 title bouts as well as many other professional matches.

The first woman to be issued a licence in the sport was Caroline Svendsen from Nevada. Svendsen had a total of 6 bout before hanging up her gloves, although she gained considerable exposure and can be linked to a growth in participation in the United States. This was followed by other states practicing licenced boxing although in 1979, California changed their regulations to only allow women to go a maximum of 4 rounds in a boxing match in an effort to protect their safety. Two minute rounds was also another rule implemented to safeguard the boxers.

During the 1980’s, there were many people advocating for better quality for women in boxing in terms of equal pay, conditions and recognition for their efforts. Marian Trimiar took this to an extent by going on a month long hunger strike in an effort to reach gender equality in the sport. In 1988, Sweden became the first country to lift a ban on amateur female boxing which was a revival in terms of sanctioning events for women.

In 1992, judges in the United States ruled that it is illegal to deny a person to fight because of their gender. Gail Grandchamp eventually won an eight year battle to secure her right to box. A year later, USA Boxing lifted the ban prohibiting women from boxing as a result of the Dallas Malloy and the ACLU lawsuit.

In October 1993, Dallas Malloy went on to defeat Heather Poyner in the first ever sanctioned amateur boxing match in the United States. Malloy landed clean jabs and got to her opponent early to go on and win the bout on a 5-0 decision in a historical match. Following this, in 1994 the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA) lifted the ban on women’s boxing.

The birth of competitive and professional female boxing

The birth of women’s professional boxing in the United States is considered to be the match between Christy Martin and Deirdre Gogarty in 1996. Martin won the incredible six-rounder on UD in a bout that was placed on none other than Mike Tyson's undercard. Martin would also go on to enjoy a successful career as well as television appearances.

In the same year, England lifted their ban on women’s boxing and held amateur competitions for young female boxers. The USA went a step further and held a national championship for women a year later. At the end of the 20th century, AIBA approved the first European cup for women’s boxing.

In 1998, Jane Couch won her battle against licencing and equality for women in boxing and became the first officially licenced female boxer in Britain. Couch went on to win five titles and enjoy a 14 year career and inspired a new generation of young female boxers. It is safe to say that women’s boxing has already come so far from bare knuckle fighting to championships.

This concludes the first part of the history of women’s boxing. Unorthodoxx hopes that you enjoyed this part of the story as much as we enjoyed researching and sharing it with you. If you would like to hear more about women’s boxing and see what we have to offer, make sure you check out our other blog posts, follow us on social media and be a part of our journey.

About Unorthodoxx and our womens boxing gloves

Unorthodoxx is the UK’s first Women’s Boxing brand that has been created purely for women and has exclusively designed women’s boxing gloves and women’s boxing clothing. Our products and equipment are designed to offer the ultimate fit, protection and durability for female boxers and combat sports fighters. From novice beginners to elite competition Unorthodoxx fight gear offers the best women’s boxing gloves, clothing and equipment.

If you would like to join us on our journey, engage with our growing community and be a part of the Unorthodoxx story follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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