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Hattie Stewart, Hattie Leslie and Cecil Richards
Hattie Stewart, Hattie Leslie and Cecil Richards
American 'World Women Boxing Champions'
Illustration from the National Police Gazette

They made the history

First Boxing Championesses

Русская версия

The development of women's boxing was quite separate from that of other women's sports. In a different social sphere, middle-class women were struggling to get into the "respectable" world of organized sports, but found themselves seriously constrained by dominant medical ideologies about the innate physical limitations of females and their unsuitability to take part in vigorous exercise. Whereas the development of mainstream sports for women was based upon notions of sexual difference, and male and female bodies in most sports are signifiers of those differences, the basic symbolism of women's boxing seemed to contradict this trend. In its most pure form, it was a celebration of female muscularity, physical strength and aggression. Power was literally inscribed in the boxers' bodies -- in their actual working muscles -- an expression of physical capital usually ascribed to men. Nevertheless, gender and sexuality received heightened expression. While the battered body of the male boxer was a symbol of the defeat of heroic masculinity, the battered body of the female boxer was the very denial of the supposed essence of femininity and a symbol of brutalization and dehumanization, at the same time creating an image of exciting and animalistic sensuality. However serious the women were about their sport, because of its low-class, disreputable image, it remained "underground," or at best marginalized. Working women who used their bodies freely and powerfully were characterized as uncivilized and vampish, in distinct contrast to the listless, weak and sexually repressed image of the well-bred middle-class Victorian lady. For that reason, women's boxing always attracted male voyeurs -- not only working men, but also local dignitaries and businessmen. Its explicit sexuality (through bare breasts and the ripping of clothes, the scope for male fantasies, and potential as a surrogate for male brutality against the "weaker" sex) increased the entertainment value of women's boxing into the twentieth century.

Training in 1880s
Ladies boxing class in London. 1885-1890
Published in the "Kampfes Lust" by Werner Sonntag. Collection by Mary Evans "Le Grand Livre du Sport Feminin"
The history of ideas in response to the aestheticism.

Training Female Pugilists
Training Female Pugilists
'Illustrated Police News', April 13, 1872
Reprint from The Quack Doctor
By the end of the XIX century, women's prize fighting was taking place on both sides of the Atlantic. Because there were relatively few women competitors, exhibition matches were often against men and sometimes women were the victors. More usually, women were seriously injured; at least one may even have been killed. On-the-spot stitching of large cuts was sometimes carried out so that a bout could continue, and women fought on with broken noses and jaws, smashed teeth and swollen eyes. Because of the betting economy and the lure of a fat purse, women's fights continued to be staged as brutal spectacles. Although by the 1880s regulations had been applied to the prize ring and punching or boxing with the hands (in gloves) only was allowed (and only above the belt), 'savate' fights (strikes with the feet as well as the hands) continued to be popular and sometimes girls as young as 12 years old headed the bill. Besides, many female fighters didn't recognize gloves as necessary and fought bare knuckled.
Our American Cousins are rather ingenious in inventing new sensations. The last novelty is a match made between two female competitors for fistic honours in the prize ring. The ladies are at present undergoing a rigid course of training… In the morning at six o' clock they get up and drink a cup of tea, and eat a piece of brown bread; then get on their bloomer costumes, heavy-soled shoes, and dog-trot with their trainer for five miles. They then bathe, and are rubbed down in the most approved style, and permitted to rest in bed one hour. At nine o' clock they breakfast, usually on mutton chops, brown bread, baked potatoes and coffee. No butter is allowed them. At eleven they drink a glass of porter, and then go sparring or striking the sand-bags. This exercise lasts about thirty minutes, when the trainer steps up and they have two hours of boxing. Then a bath and the usual rubbing down, and then their dinner, which is pretty well the same as breakfast, a beefsteak or mutton chop, potatoes, or coffee. Then a rest of thirty minutes and then a walk or dog-trot with their trainer of a mile and repeat. Then a half-hour's exercise with the sand-bags – that is, striking from the shoulder a bag of sand suspended about the height of their breasts, and weighing 175 pounds. This, we believe, is done to harden their fists, or "flukes" as the trainer calls them. After this exercise a cup of tea without the lacteal fluid or saccharine matter, and a piece of dry toast is given them for supper. The evening, until about 8.30, when they retire punctually to rest, is spent talking over the approaching fight, making small bets on who gets the first blood and the feminine who goes first to grass.

Training in 1880s
Female boxer training in 1887
Published in the "Kampfes Lust" by Werner Sonntag
Female boxer. The London boxing champion Stan training his school boxing girls; one of them vigorously strikes him with her fists and yet preserve elegant grace.

In the late XIX Century, brutal underground prize fights between women transformed into a legitimate and somehow recognized sport of boxing with noted champion titles – thanks to American publisher and owner of the 'National Police Gazette' Richard Fox as well as Harry Hill and other entertainers promoted boxing women. The Gazette's illustrators made a lot of sketches depicting female boxers – posed and boxing – mostly in non-athletic attire. However, it can be assumed that those sketches represented female boxers in full dress, whereas in real prize fights they would wear more convenient uniform. The very fist documented women's fight in a theater ring in gloves by the Queensbury's rule occurred at Harry Hill's ring and was reported by the Gazette in 1876. "Nell Saunders defeated Rose Harland and won a prize". Those who wish to know more about that bout can read the report by the New York Times, March 17, 1876. Thus women's boxing was being popularized in two directions: boxing shows and real prize fights organized and advertized as title contests.

The 'National Police Gazette' wrote on September 24, 1892: "Boxing is not alone confined to the masculine race, for during the past few years there have been many women who have donned the gloves and displayed great science. Decades ago in England females followed boxing and several posed as clever exponents of the art of self defense. One of the first women who were initiated in boxing was Lib Kelly, who engaged in scores of battles in the seventies, and although the contests were four rounds, according to Marquis of Queensberry rules, she always proved victorious. Lib Kelly was a tall athletic looking girl, possessed a long reach, understood how to hit, stop and counter' to perfection, and she met several female aspirants who flourished in the country, among them Mlle D'Omer, who came to the States under the management of Harry Webb, and appeared with varied success at the numerous theatres. In 1878, Libby Kelly appeared at Harry Hill's Exchange in Houston Street. New York, and made her name famous by the science she displayed. The fame and glory that attended Libby Kelly's prowess with the boxing gloves caused numerous other females to try to emulate her. In "her footstep" followed Miss Nettie Burke, Jennio Meade, Hattie Edwards and Miss Alice Jennings and many others.

Anna Lewis. October 25, 1884
Anna Lewis. October 25, 1884
Illustration from the 'National Police Gazette'

From today's perspective, a girl growing up in America in the 1880s didn't have a whole lot to look forward to when she came of age: She couldn't vote; in many states she couldn't own property once she married or divorce her husband if her marriage failed. She couldn't even take her leisure; at least not while wearing the tight corset that was the fashion (and even mandatory) of the day. Indeed, the 'National Police Gazette', the widely read forerunner of the tabloid, reported matter-of-factly in its October 6, 1888, issue: "The bursting of an artery due to tight lacing causes the death of Miss Mary Crawford of Detroit, Mich." In the 1880s a lady knew her name should appear in print only twice: when she married and when she died. No doubt, then, how much readers were shocked and intrigued when came across reports about skillful female boxing matches like this: "Hattie dealt Alice some resounding rib-roasters, which staggered her, and made several heavy lunges, driving her opponent into the crowd and almost off her feet. A right-hander and a left on Alice's jaws, which drew claret. The referee decided first blood for Leary… Then Alice squared herself and drew claret a second time on her antagonist's cheek by a scratch blow... Alice led off with a crack at Hattie's jaw, which was promptly returned by four 'swipes on the mug' in rapid succession…"

In 1880s, the 'National Police Gazette' and boxing show proprietor Richard Fox advertized the "Women Champion of the World" or "Lady Boxing Attraction" as part of the show. The prominent female boxer from Cleveland, 28-year-old Anna Lewis made a history originating the challenge for the first female world championship match. She took boxing classes from her tutor Billie Russell and husband Eddy. No woman did more to popularize female boxing that Richard Fox's pupil Anna Lewis. On October 25, 1884, the 'National Police Gazette' published the biography of Anna Lewis: "Anna Lewis, the celebrated female boxer, was born in Chemung, New York, October 29, 1856. She went to Cleveland in the fall of 1883. She is a tall, stately woman of masculine bearing and walks with a firm decided step. Her form is as straight as an arrow. She has a pleasing face, her lips are thin and firm, and her eyes clear and piercing. Her hair is off a bright auburn hue and is worn banged. The muscles of her arms and chest are as hard as iron. A wiry bundle of muscles lying from the collar-bone to the arm pit, stand out in great prominence. The measurement of her body are as follows: at the shoulders 39.5 inches; arms, 13 inches; breast, 38 inches; forearm, 11.5 inches; waist, 33.5 inches; hips, 41 inches; thighs, 24 inches; knees, 15.25 inches; calf, 14.5 inches. The length of arm, from shoulder to the knuckles, is 26 inches. She is now twenty-eight years of age, 5 feet 6 inches tall, and weighs 155 pounds. [According to another Gazette's report, her best fighting weight was 127 Lbs. - FSCClub]. She will meet any woman in the world of any weight, but is unwilling to reduce her own weight below 140 pounds. She has been in training under Eddy for the past four months, and is in excellent shape. All she wants is an opportunity to make a record. A match will doubtless be arranged for her in Buffalo, soon after which she proposed to send on a challenge and forfeit to the Gazette." Thus Anna challenged any woman who took a dare to meet her in the ring for $1,000 (enormous money at that time). Another noted female boxer, Hattie Stewart of Norfolk, Virginia, accepted the challenge and on April 14, 1884 the ladies met in the ring. If the Gazette's illustration is correct, the ladies fought bare knuckled and wore traditional ladies attire including corsets (as was customary during the Victorian era but inconvenient to practice sports). However, it seems to be more likely that this decorous picture was made in order not to irritate a man in the street while the ladies fought in uniform more appropriate for boxing. Muscular and experienced in pugilism Hattie Stewart defeated Anna and became the first known female "World Boxing Champion". Despite the defeat, Anna Lewis became history by making women's boxing extensive publicity.

Hattie Steart postcard
Hattie Steart postcard
Frontside of the postcard reprinted from Boxrec

Hattie Stewart, sometimes nick-named 'The Female John L. Sullivan', was a well-known female boxer of the very late 1800s. She was born in 1857. The 1925 postcard with her 1890s photo says: "Above is pictured Hattie Gillen, as she appeared thirty years ago when she was recognized as Hattie Stewart, the female woman heavyweight boxer. Hattie Stewart married Thomas Gillen, an actor and former pugilist and they now live quietly in the Bronx, New York. Hattie Stewart to use the name by which she was known throughout the century more than a quarter century ago, proved her right to the title she boasted and on many occasions asserted her pugilistic superiority over some men opponents. She appeared at many boxing clubs and theaters throughout the country boxing both women and men – and in those days the woman's place was supposed to be in the home." In the ring, muscular Hattie acted resolutely and rapidly like a man being a champion for seven years. The photograph depicts Hattie in a boxing stance; if this is her real boxing attire, it can be concluded she boxed in corset, which, as we said, is unlikely.

Hattie Steart postcard
Hattie Steart postcard
Backside of the postcard reprinted from Boxrec

The 'National Police Gazette' mentioned Hattie Stewart many times. In its issue as of September 24, 1892 it wrote: "Norfolk, Virginia then produced a burly female who had been taught the art of boxing. She startled sporting circles by issuing a challenge to meet any female In America in a boxing contest for the championship. Her name was Hattie Stewart. She was about 5 feet 7 Inches in height and weighed about 150 pounds. She was well proportioned, her chest measuring 37 inches; while she was a beautiful specimen of physical development, and stripped she looked a perfect Amazon. She could hit straight with her left and bring her right across a la John L. Sullivan. If any woman was fitted for a female champion, Hattie Stewart was the one that would fill the bill in every particular. She appeared at all the variety and music halls In America and Canada, and not only did the young giantess knock out female rivals, bat held her own with professional male boxers." In another article the 'Gazette' said: "This package of muscular dynamic was the first woman to become 'World Female Boxing Champion'. Hattie who was born in Norfolk had boxed all the women challengers in variety theaters around the country. She won the title on April 14, 1884 by defeating Anna Lewis, a tough rough customer."

In 1890, Hattie Stewart, of Norfolk, Virginia, put out a public challenge in a local newspaper, to the heavyweight boxer Hattie Leslie, of Buffalo, New York. Stewart, who was living in Seattle, Washington, at the time of her public challenge, told the press that she wanted to fight Leslie in a 'boxing championship' and that she would receive $250 and that Leslie would receive $250, with an additional $100 to Leslie for expenses. After Leslie found out about the 'Public Challenge', she came back with her own 'public response'. The response was published in the 'Winnipeg Free Press' on September 25, 1890. Leslie stated the following: "I have seen a challenge to me from Hattie Stewart, stating she would meet me in a glove contest for $250 a side and that she would allow me $100 for expenses; but she has no money put up. Now I will make an offer to her: I will fight her 'Police Gazette' rules [until outright victory] to govern, with gloves weighing two ounces, bare hands preferred, and I will give or take $250 for expenses. We can get police protection, and if Stewart wants to fight in San Diego, California, she will have to get the same. Now, let Stewart put up her money with the Police Gazette, and I will cover it, and I will fight her three months after the articles [contracts] are signed. This is no bluff. (Signed) Hattie Leslie, champion female pugilist (not boxer) of the world." It is unknown though if the two ever met in the ring; Hattie Leslie died two years later.

The 'National Police Gazette' named the best four 'first boxing championesses': Hattie Stewart, Hattie Leslie, Cecil Richards, Dolly Adams. The newspaper considered Hattie Stewart as the best of them; the Gazette believed she was "able to beat any man of her weight."

Boxing training
Hattie Leslie. Cigarette package cover
Illustration from the National Police Gazette

Hattie Leslie was a real fighter, a physically exceptional woman, much heavier than all her boxing opponents. Lizzie Spann (in marriage Lizzie Spond) known as Hattie Leslie, was born in Buffalo on November 14, 1968, and untimely deceased in September 1992. In 1890, the ‘National Police Gazette’ called her the ‘famous Amazon’. “She has made quite a name and gained considerable reputation as a boxer; today she is looked upon as the female boxing champion of America. Leslie, like Stewart, is a tall, powerful specimen of humanity. She possesses strong limbs and weighs about 180 pounds. She has made a study of the art of self-defense and can hit and stop with great quickness, while she can use the left and right with as much dexterity as a professor. At the present time I do not think there are two females in either hemisphere that could stand even an equal chance with either the Buffalo or Virginia champion [Hattie Stewart and Hattie Leslie. This means that in 1890 both were considered champions at that moment - see the note below - FSCClub]. Which is the most expert and which is the champion is an open question, for they have never met to decide that matter. Hattie Leslie styles herself the female boxing champion of America, and for the past twelve months has had a standing challenge to fight or box any female in the world either in a contest to a finish, according to ‘Police Gazette’ rules, or a limited number of rounds, but it is very doubtful if there are any woman either in England or America that will pick up the gauntlet.” As we have said, it was Stewart who challenged Hattie Leslie for the prize fight while the latter offered a counter challenge; but it is unclear if the women have really fought.

The Gazette's issue on July 28, 1888 the following advertisement on page 10: "Hattie Leslie, a young married variety performer, who is a skilled wrestler, has issued a challenge to engage in a match with fists, under prize ring rules, and it was accepted by Peter Bagley, of Bradford, Pennsylvania, on behalf of Alice Leary, who is a professional club swinger and athlete."

Though women had been boxing in variety theaters in the U.S. for a few years, the Leslie-Leary match was the first advertised sporting bout between female pugilists. According to her promoters Miss Leary, a 24-year-old brunette and five-year ring veteran, was 52-0 with 47 KOs. Mrs. Leslie, a redhead barely out of her teens and also undefeated, was billed as having knocked out 29 of her 34 opponents in her three years inside the ropes. The "championship" fight (with $250 for the winner) took place on September 16, 1888 on Canadian Navy Island, near Buffalo. The fight - apparently vigorous, competitive and compelling - was recounted on page 10 of the October 6 issue of the 'Gazette'. According to the 'Gazette', "the women, wearing flannel-lined kid gloves cut off at the fingertips, fought seven rounds in front of more than a thousand spectators. After the first two rounds, which were slow, Leary began to batter the 20-year-old Leslie around the ring in the third and dropped her for an eight count in the fourth with a hard right that drew blood and broke Leslie's nose. When another hard right to the face in the fifth floored Leslie again, her seconds pleaded with her not to answer the bell for the sixth. Though Mrs. Leslie's left eye was nearly swollen shut and she was still bleeding from the nose, the redhead refused to quit. Instead, Leslie mounted a jabbing attack in the sixth. Chasing Leary around the ring, she landed two quick left hooks and put Leary on the canvas for a nine count. A flurry of punches dropped Leary a second time, but she was saved by the bell. When Leary came out for the seventh round, she was in no condition to continue. Within seconds a powerful right to the jaw dropped the spent brunette on her face for the full count, and Hattie Leslie was declared the female boxing champion of the world."

Boxing training
Hattie Leslie won the women's boxing championship in 1888
Illustration from onMilwaukee.com

On September 17, 1888, the New York newspaper ‘The World’ published the round-by-round report of this historic fight. According to the report, “Hattie Leslie has been sparring in public with her husband John for a year and a half past. She is twenty years old and weighs about 200 pounds ordinarily. She had trained down and stripped at 180. She is a fine-looking girl, with brown hair, blue eyes and clear complexion. Her experience with gloves and superiority in weight gave her considerable advantage. Alice Leary is a strong, healthy seriocomic, about twenty-five years old, who came here from Bradford to work in a variety theatre, and who has a local reputation as a dumb-bell and Indian club performer. She was trained by Billy Baker, a local champion pugilist. She has a Celtic cast of countenance and an abundance of dark brown hair. She stripped at 148 pounds, and was not trained down fine enough at that.” When morning dawned the rain was falling as copiously as ever, but the girls did not back out, they were ready to fight in mill-pond, if necessary. The party landed at the very spot which has been made famous by three of Billy Baker's fights. The old landmarks of a ring were viable, but the grass was too wet to stake out a ring on the turf. Near by was a deserted house and a barn nearly filled with oats. The crowd took hold and improvised pitchforks and soon cleared away the rubbish, leaving a space large enough for the set-to, and here the fight was held regardless of weather. Since Hattie Leslie outweighed Alice Leary by 32 pounds, it comes as no surprise that she “won after half-hour's fighting, in which both were severely if not seriously punished. The battle was made for $250 a side and the gate money.”

Yet a prizefight between women must have been deemed particularly egregious, because the Buffalo district attorney made much of the incident in the Buffalo Morning Express, denouncing the contest and calling for a grand jury investigation. Detail description of the hearing of a case in Buffalo is available in the 'New York State Reporter'. First of all, it can be learned from this document that Hattie Leslie and Alice Leary were their nick names; their real names were Libbie (Lizzie) Spann and Barbara Dillon. Hattie Leslie was arrested a week later for violating the anti-prize fight law, but was released because she managed to persuade the judges that it was not a real fight but just a staged promotional show in which her inexperienced in pugilism opponent just played into her hand. She also insisted that neither side got any money. As a result, Hattie was released and instead her chief male second, well-known boxer George LaBlanche, served six months in the workhouse for his participation in the fight.

Being heavier than all her female opponents, Hattie Leslie attempted to try herself in wrestling. The 'Brooklyn Eagle' wrote on December 22, 1889: "Hattie Leslie, from Cincinnati, announces that she is giving up pugilism and will wrestle in any theater, only that her opponent must be a lady too." On January 5, 1890, the newspaper wrote: "Fitzwilliams, the Hercules and cannonball juggler of Cincinnati says he will back Hattie Leslie, the champion female pugilist, to wrestle any female at Greco-Roman style. Miss Leslie has given up pugilism and has sought the more refined calling of wrestling. 'I will back her to throw any female wrestler four times in an hour'."

In fact, Hattie Leslie spent most of her time demonstrating her ring skills on the vaudeville circuit rather than in real fights. On September 28, 1892 during a tour in Wisconsin, Hattie suddenly died at age 23. The local newspaper 'Deseret Evening News' wrote: "Hattie Leslie, known in private life as Mrs. Lizzie Spond, who claimed the title of 'champion women pugilist of the world', died at 7 o'clock yesterday morning in the Exchange hotel of typhoid fever… Mrs. Spond has been filling a week's engagement at the people theater in Milwaukee giving sparring exhibitions with a male opponent."

Hattie Leslie is still remembered in Milwaukee; Pete Erhmann wrote in the local website: "Whole century would go by before women's boxing got a real foothold. Today some troglodytic boxing fans (including, frankly, me) still cringe watching the girls sling leather. Good thing Hattie Leslie isn't around to put us in our place."

Cecil Richards
Cecil Richards
Police Gazette
Her contemporaries asserted that all her gestures and motions were elegant and feminine, even her knocking out punches.

Cecil Richards was the 'champion female boxer of the world' in 1894-1897. Unlike some other her contemporary boxing championesses (especially manlike Hattie Stewart and Hattie Leslie), Cecile looked very feminine while her boxing attire was quite convenient and fancy. Being slim, Miss Richards over boxed her numerous opponents using skills and sophisticated punching techniques rather than brutal force. Miss Richards was very resourceful and ingenious; she knew how to quickly alternate punches directing to various tender body spots; she was able to deliver several punches in rapid succession confusing her opponent; she was also good in ducking and counter attacking. Her boxing objective was not just to hit her opponent hard but also unbalance her. She learned the 'sweet science' from famous male boxers of her time: John L. Sullivan, Robert James "Bob" Fitzsimmons, Jim Corbett and George Henry "Kid" Lavigne.

Some famous female pugilists of that time used “scenic” nicknames. So did Cecil; Richards was not her real last name. Miss Cecil - that part is real - was born in 1874 in Chicago into an athletic family. The men in her family were fighters and athletes; two of her brothers being particularly prominent. Women had dabbled with dumb bells and were fond of fencing, so Miss Richards had an inherited bicep and the will to use it. She looked on the remuneration for fistic encounter and saw that it was good. She starts boxing at the age of fourteen. For several years, she had in a quiet and way carried on her studies in the science which she had determined to master. As soon as she came into the arena, she defeated most of the women boxers of note. She impressed and stunned her spectators managing to knockout heavier muscular opponents. Prevailing over all her female opponents, she also met most of her contemporary male champions in friendly and exhibition bouts - always with much credit to herself.

Cecil Richards
Cecil Richards. Tour Advertisement
San Francisco Chronicle, Jan 30, 1897

The ‘Galveston Daily News’, in the May 30, 1897 issue wrote a large colorful and poetic article dedicated to Cecil Richards: “Though probably new to Galveston this fighter has a record in other cities as long as her arm and before her the fair maids of pugilism have gone down like stalks of Bermuda untimely nipped. She is fair and slim this girl of the glove. Any one who expects to see an Amazon or a strapping six-footer will be seriously disappointed. This girl is five foot six – the adorable height in women and she weighs 130 pounds in her fighting clothes. Many women around look more masculinely muscled. Miss Richards has a perfect complexion. Evidently, a training diet an absence of alcohol, long and steady exercise and plenty of sleep would make a sallow society girl blossom like the rose. She is pink and white without rouge or powder with auburn hair that curls all over her head and big brown eyes. Her lips are red and she has dimples. Her throat is no larger than ordinary and her chin is not unduly prominent. She is a decidedly handsome lady and her voice is wondrous soft and low. But about the mouth there is a firm line and a look of determination warns those who read as they run that there is will power in this girl. That is when fighting blood is up. Though her eyes are soft, her arms are hard. When the dimples look out, they're danger signals. On the street this young warrior wears a modish coat of fur and a hat that is a fetching of violets... In boxing she’s tricky and she has some new blows of her own invention. When Miss Richards fights she wears ounce gloves and her boxing costume consists of rather full bloomers to the knee, a blouse waist, a sash, stockings and sparring slides.”

The 'Galveston Daily News' continues: “During her ring career, she has boxed George Green the Chicago bantam, Tommy White the crack featherweight, Jack the world's champion and others of less Importance. But her goes with women are the most interesting. Her first important contest was with Hannah Weston in 1896 whom she defeated in eleven rounds. She then met Annie Greggory and beat her in three rounds. Her next contest was with Jennie Nelson whom she put out in five rounds. Minnie Davis was her next opponent and Cecil whipped her in nine hard rounds. After this Jennie Nelson thought she had improved sufficiently to try Miss Richards again, and it only took Cecil one short round to finish her the second time. Then Miss Richards sighed for new worlds to conquer and she went to far off California and one of the scalps that at her slender belt belongs to Lansing Rowan who was justly styled the ‘American female champion boxer’. It was a great battle and Miss Rowan was knocked out in seven furious rounds after a very clever and exciting contest and the remembrance of it all makes Miss Richards dimples come out of whenever the name of Lansing Rowan Is mentioned. Her next contest was with Hattie Moore the Australian champion who had then just arrived in San Francisco. Miss Moore was not satisfied with the outcome and challenged Cecil for a second meeting and the match was at Oakland on February 10, 1897. Cecil again demonstrated her superiority over Hattie and defeated her again in five rounds winning ‘title of the world’. Cecil satiated with and weary of knocking out women hence challenge to George Lavigne. The latter was not hurrying westward to accept that challenge when had heard from... Her last victory was the defeat of Kitty Morris at Rossland, British Columbia on May 14, 1897 in which she easily won the victory and retained her championship honour after the two round battle.” According to the ‘Gazette’, “Cecil was indefatigable title holder defending her crown 87 times”. (!)

Dolly Adams
Dolly Adams practicing 'combinations
with her trainer
Police Gazette woodcut

A local Rossland newspaper ‘The News’ wrote after Richards–Morris bout: "...In the second round Miss Morris rushed in with a heavy right swing for the head which was cleverly ducked by Miss Richards end before Kitty could recover herself Cecil shot her right to the jaw with great force bringing her opponent to her knees. When Kitty got to her feet Miss Richards rushed and landed left flush on the body and put her right hard on the jaw and Miss Morris went down and was counted out. It was one of grandest glove fights ever seen in British Columbia; both women doing good, clever and hard work that would have done credit to a male champion. The victor, Miss Cecil Richards has been boxing some four years and defeated all of the female boxers of note. She is today female champion boxer of the world."

The ‘Galveston Daily News’ finally finished with the enigmatic conclusion: “But although she knows how to use her fists so well, she has certain personal traits which will probably unfit her for the role of a professional prize fighter.” It is unclear what this specifically means but anyhow, Cecil Richards is remembered as a keen, subtle, relentless boxer in the guise of a beautiful woman.

Another "world championess" of the XIX century must be noted, Dolly Adams, a tough girl from St. Louis who had challenged the great Jim-Corbett to meet her in the ring. (Which he declined.) Very little is known about Dolly Adams who according to the ‘Gazette’ succeeded the title from deceased Hattie Leslie, in a fierce seven-round encounter in New York on June 3, 1894. It is unknown either who she met in the ring. She was 22 at that time, tipped the scale at 141 pounds and stood five feet five inches tall. In the original ‘Police Gazette’ woodcut, she practices ‘combinations’ with her trainer.

In fact, there are a lot of confusions (particularly, in the reports by the ‘Gazette’) about ‘boxing championesses’ - sometimes there are conflicting data who fought who and when. (See the Note below.) Even now we have a few champions in each boxing category (according to different versions). But in the era when there was no world federations at all any person would be declared a champion, especially if she or he had a good publicity. Anyhow, Hattie Stewart, Hattie Leslie and Cecil Richards, as well as Anna Lewis and Dolly Adams represent the best of the diverse pool of female pioneers in the art of pugilism at the turn of the XX century.

Fight for championship: Hattie Stewart and Anna Lewis square off
Anna Lewis takes boxing classes from her tutor Billie Russell
Illustration from the 'National Police Gazette'

Fight for championship: Hattie Stewart and Anna Lewis quare off
Fight for championship: Hattie Stewart and Anna Lewis square off
(the artist didn'y intend to show face resemblance)
Illustration from the 'National Police Gazette'


A graphic inset in a 'Police Gazette' issue contains short biographies of the first three female boxing champions – Hattie Stewart, Cecil Richards and Hattie Leslie. This information has been widely spread all over internet even though contains several erroronous statements which can be refuted by some other articles in the 'Gazette' and other publications. The inset article stated that Cecil Richards became the champion defeating Hattie Stewart in 1887 and lost her title to Hattie Leslie in 1990. Neither could be right – since Cecil Richards was born in 1874 and came out in the public ring in 1894, while Hattie Leslie died in 1892 and Hattie Stewart finished her boxing career not later than 1991 (after seven years of performance since 1884 when she defeated Anna Lewis). In fact, in 1990, Hattie Stewart and Hattie Leslie were both considered as champions – it is confirmed by a 1990 article in the 'Gazette' which reported about the challenge exchange between the two, whereas there is no indications they have really met in the ring. Besides these inaccuracies, another graphic inset in the 'Gazette' telling a story about Dolly Adams, "the last female boxing champion in the XIX century" stated that "Adams took a title from Hattie Leslie in the fierce seven-round encounter in New York, on June 3, 1894." This is impossible just because at that moment Hattie Leslie had been dead for two years.

Police Gazette about xhampionesses

Primary Sources

Eskin, L. (1974), "Complete History of Women's Boxing," in Boxing Illustrated, August/September: 29-32/ 25-8
The Boxer's Heart: A Woman Fighting By Kate Sekules
Lady Boxers by Vanessa Toulmin
A History of Leadville Theater: Opera Houses, Variety Acts and Burlesque Shows By Gretchen Scanlon
Another female prize fight in Manchester, NH, 1860!
Hattie Leslie (Lizzie Spond) obituary. 'Deseret Evening News, Sept 29, 1892'
Boxing's Most Celebrated: Hattie Leslie
Boxing Flashback: Hattie Leslie
Superior Court of Buffalo files. 'The New York State Reporter, Volume 27'
A Disgraceful Match between Amazons near Buffalo. Round-by-round Report. 'The Boxing Ring'
A Fight For The Right To Fight by Amy Nutt
Brooklyn Eagle: December 22, 1889
San Francisco Chronicle, Jan 30, 1897. Site 'FOLD3'
The Galveston Daily News, M
'Ledge', July 1, 1897
National Police Gazette. October 25, 1884
National Police Gazette. September 24, 1892
Public Challenges in Women's Boxing---Not a New Thing! By Sue TL Fox
1887 N184 W. S. Kimball Gallery of Cards (Complete 50-card Set)
Hattie Stewart. Postcard
Hattie Stewart, BoxRec
Hattie Stewart - World female boxing champion 1884
"Strong And Thick-Set Heroines:" The Other Side Of Women's Sports, 1750-1900
Women's Boxing and Related Activities: Introducing Images and Meanings. By Jennifer Hargreaves
Training Female Pugilists
Joyce Carol Oates On Boxing
Boxing: A Manly History of the Sweet Science of Bruising by Brett & Kate McKay

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