Boxing was illegalized in New York state in 1896, then legalized in 1911, then re-illegalized in 1917, then re-legalized for the final time in 1920. And this time, something was new: women were attending the matches.
Spurred on partly by the previous year’s ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women voting rights previously reserved for men, women also sought admission to a group previously nearly all-male: boxing spectators. As this 1921 article described:
Scattered through the audience are all grades of femininity — from the stout blond sportswoman who sits on the bleachers at the races and gets her “tips” from a friend that’s married to a jockey, to a box full of the best New York society… Boxing bouts have been taken up by all sorts of women — from Anne Morgan, who would turn their proceeds into the useful channels of war relief, to the two little shopgirls, powdering their noses at the Garden, who have been brought by their men friends to see the show.
Why were women taking to this sport above many other sports? The article suggests, with a more-than-patronizing subtext, that it was essentially because women would have a harder time understanding any of the other sports.
Women are at the fights to stay… because at a boxing bout no special education is required to understand what is going on, because what the contestants are trying to do to each other is so direct and simple. The uninitiatied lady asks no questions of her escort. That alone should be enough to give permanency to the new custom of taking her. The contestants so conveniently carry their goals with them that she can’t get mixed up about which side is winning. And, even if she does lose count, there are the simple remarks of her neighbors to save the day.
Imagine telling somebody in 1921 to forget about women merely watching boxing, but that women’s boxing itself would one day become an Olympic sport. While men’s boxing had been an event in the Games since 1904, women’s boxing was added in 2012.
Woman at the Ring Side
Published: Sunday, January 30, 2021