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Womanly art of pugilism

(Prehistory of female boxing)

Minoan pugilists
Minoan civilization (3650 to 1400 BC) where fistfight allegedly was born
Reconstruction of a female bout


All events related to female fistfighting activities before the 20th century will be considered as the prehistory of female boxing; to be more precise, before 1904 when women’s boxing was first introduced as an Olympic sport (even though as a demonstrational). Prior that time female combative sports (as almost any other any sport for women) had never been widely developed. With some exceptions though.



Русская версия

Russian pugilists
Traditiona; fistfight during Russian celebration of Maslenitsa
Reconstruction by Lillie Lefort


Minoan Boxing Youths. Fresco Art Akrotiri Feninime boxing "Boxing’s appeal lies in the fact that it is without a doubt our most dramatically ‘masculine’ sport…
Indeed, the sweet science of bruising has for its entirety history been inextricably tied up with a culture’s perception and conception of manhood…
Men fighting men to determine worth (i.e., masculinity) excludes women as completely as the female experience of childbirth excludes men."
- Joyce Carol Oates


This assertion is far from true even though it is a woman’s opinion! Women have been fighting as long as men have. Usually more secretly and without widespread publicity or proud boast.

Although there are not many legends or records about female single combat or fistfighting in old times, women did fight and sometimes it was women who even pioneered in fighting arts. Starting with Spartans, Amazons, Gladiatrices, Etruscan female fighters. Even earlier! The earliest documented use of gloves in fistfighting refers to a fresco depicting youths boxing found in Akrotiri (Santorini), a Minoan Bronze Age settlement (Circa 1500 BC). And some researchers think it was a girl fight! Not just in Europe - in 1773, Captain James Cook visited Tonga archipelago where he witnessed fistfighting and wrestling women.

Strange though it may seem, one of the first direction of the struggle for women rights in the XIX century was not the movement of suffragettes but enthusiasm of high life ladies for practicing the most possible manly activity – pugilism. In London, New York and other world centers, society ladies became actively attending boxing schools where they heartily comprehended the “sweet science” of delivering and getting punches. Ladies put on gloves and started measuring their strength against each other even before they managed to get rid of annoying corsets. Probably, the discomfort which ladies suffered from corsets during boxing contests substantially contributed to deliverance them from this yoke. In other words, the way to the women emancipation started in boxing schools and boxing rings.

Minoan Boxing Youths. Fresco Art Akrotiri
Minoan civilization (3650 to 1400 BC)

Boxing ladies in corsets. Late 19th Centrury
Police Gazette


Womanly pugilists

Part I. Before James Figg


Womanly pugilists

Part II. From James Figg to Marques of Queensberry


Womanly pugilists

Part III. From Queensberry to Saint Louis Olympics


>> Combat History

>> Female Fistfight in old times


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