Updated: Aug 18
Female boxing dates back as early as the 18th century. Albeit very different to the boxing we know today, with women fighting men as equals. This blog looks back at how far we have come and how ladies’ boxing has developed into today’s sport, from grassroots to prestigious competitions.
Early Origins of WOMEN'S BOXING
It’s thought that one of the first female fighters was Elizabeth Wilkinson. Recorded as participating in one of the first fights advertised in London, Wilkinson began bare-knuckle fighting in 1722 and emerged victorious from her documented fight against Hannah Hyfield.
The Fight For Gender Equality
However, the 19th century cast a shadow on female boxing, as it faced widespread prohibition in Europe and the United States, being deemed “unladylike.”
Following the introduction of the Queensbury Rules in 1865, including padded gloves and timed rounds the sport began gaining more structure and regulations. By 1880 all women’s boxing was banned in Britain.
Despite obvious setbacks for women, a significant turning point came with the introduction of gloves, making boxing safer and gaining recognition as a more civilised sport.
Moving forward from the ban, both women’s and men’s boxing appeared for the first time in the 1904 Olympic games held in St Louis. However, female boxing took yet another hit when, following this, men’s boxing was accepted into the Olympics, while women's boxing was not.
The 1920s marked a hopeful era for female fighters as Andrew Newton established one of London’s first women’s boxing clubs, promoting greater participation.
Exhibition matches began to be organised, but government legislation later deemed them “disgraceful” and banned them.
Undeterred by these setbacks, ladies’ boxing continued to grow and gain interest.
Progression Towards Recognition
A monumental breakthrough came in 1954 when Barbara Buttrick from Yorkshire became the first female boxer to appear on national television in the US.
Although initially defeated in her televised fight against Jo Ann Hagen. Buttrick didn’t let this stop her from going on to secure the title of the first female boxing world champion in 1957.
Buttrick’s illustrious 15-year career had a lasting impact on women’s boxing. After retiring, she cemented her legacy by founding the International Women’s Boxing Federation in 1989, further elevating the sport.
Let The Battle Commence
In 1996, England lifted its ban on women’s boxing, paving the way for amateur competitions and national championships for young female boxers. By the end of the 20th century, the first European cup for women’s boxing received approval, solidifying its recognition on a continental scale.
In 1998 Jane Couch became the first licensed female boxer in the UK; however, this didn’t come easily. Initially, The British Boxing Board of Control refused to grant Couch a professional licence because she was a woman.
After reporting the sexual discrimination and with the backing of the Equal Opportunities Commission, Couch managed to see the decision overturned.
Bringing Home Gold
In 2001, Nicola Adams became the first female boxer to represent England. In 2007 she became the first English boxer to take home silver in the European Championships.
In 2012, representing Great Britain, Adams won the first Olympic women’s boxing gold medal - also making the first openly LGBT person to win an Olympic boxing gold medal. Adams defended her title as Olympic champion in the following games in Brazil.
Empowering Future Generations
The history of female boxing reflects the resilience and determination of countless fighters paving the way for future generations of female athletes. Thanks to the trailblazers throughout history that have inspired generations of female boxers from ground roots level up to professional standard, interest in the sport continues to build, and it’s exciting to see what’s next for our female boxers.
The Fight Is Female
If you feel inspired by this blog to try boxing, come to Bronx, on a mission to show that boxing is for everyone. With our dedicated women-only sessions, you can leave feeling empowered.
For more information then give us a call, we’d love to hear from you!