because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Elizabeth Wilkinson

When bare-knuckled boxing became popular in London in the early 1700's, women wanted in on the action, too, so they advertised their bouts in the newspapers and climbed into the ring just like the men did. One in particular who became quite well-known was a brawler named Elizabeth Wilkinson. First appearing in 1722, she squared off with an opponent by the name of Hannah Hyfield ("the Newgate Market basket woman) and the agreement was that the women would hold half a crown in each fist and the first one to drop one of her coins lost. This rule stopped scratches and gouges, which were common in boxing events at the time and particularly exciting to the crowds when women fought because they went bare to the waist just like the men.

Wilkinson -- called "The Invincible City Championess" -- continued to fight for the next six years or so in venues owned and operated by one of the most successful men boxers, Jim Figg. But eventually, somewhere along the line, she met and married another male boxer, James Stokes, and started boxing in his amphitheater instead. According to the ads, Wilkinson (now Stokes) wore a tight jacket, which might suggest that she rejected pandering to the crowds more prurient nature. But she gave them their money's worth in other ways, being also skilled with a cudgel and short sword and more than happy to demonstrate both before the main event. It wasn't until the Victorian era that women -- after thousands of years of fighting competitively in public -- were shut out of bare-knuckle boxing. Suddenly, women were too dainty...? They weren't before. How in the world did that happen? (In-your-face women want to know.)

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