Friday, May 18, 2012

Fight Like A Girl -18th and 19th Century Style

During the 18th and 19th centuries (and a good part of the 20th) women were viewed as "the fairer sex", delicate, sensitive and weak. It was thought that women needed protection from the rougher side of life and were less passionate and more restrained then men.
Flying in the face of these stereotypes were the fighting women of the Georgian and early Victorian eras. During the 18th century fighting was very popular as entertainment and for settling scores. While the majority were men taking on each other, there were female combatants or pugilists.

The most famous was Elizabeth Stokes (pictured above). She was being advertised in London papers in 1722, as Lady Bare-knuckles, fighting a woman named Hannah Hyfield for a prize of 3 guineas.
"I, Elizabeth Wilkinson (her maiden name) of Clerkenwell, having had some words with Hannah Hyfield, and requiring satisfaction, do invite her to meet me upon the stage, and box me for three guineas; each woman holding half-a-crown in her hand, and the first woman that drops the money to lose the battle." She beat her soundly apparently.
Six years later they had a rematch and Elizabeth triumphed again.

The majority of female fighters were not as celebrated. Most were working class women or prostutes looking to make a little extra money, or ladies looking to settle a score. Some fought for money, while others for clothing, men or gin. Irish women in particular were promoted as being especially tough.
Women's fighting included scratching and hair-pulling along with the usual punching. The combatants, would often strip to the waist and tie their hair up on their head for the fight.
In a society where women were encouraged to be modest and restrained, the sight of two half naked (auto correct wrote "baked" here) ladies scrapping would of been titillating for the mostly male audience. The fights could get very bloody and vicious with all the clawing and punching.

It wasn't only lower class women that fought, as there were some reports of upper class women getting involved in boxing. In particular, Lady Barrymore, the wife of the 7th Earl Barrymore, boxed for fitness and to amuse her husband.

In 1867 the Marquis of Queensberry rules for boxing began to be adopted. This brought in boxing gloves, rules for hitting and regulations for the size of the ring. This also promoted boxing as a gentleman's sport. With this the era of the prize fist fight began to wain as did the fist fighting girls.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


  1. Interesting article...I'm currently studying the Victorian era in my literature class, so I find this interesting. Wow, I repeated myself there. Anyway, the Victorian era is my favorite time period.

  2. This post was so amusing to read. Of course women were fighting back then as well as today. But the circumstances were quite different I think. Thanks for interesting reading.

  3. A really interesting post, thankyou :)

  4. Haha, I love it! And now I know what Professor Elemental means when he says "Queensberry Rules" in his song "Fighting Trousers":

  5. These photos are priceless!! :-D

    Thanks for sharing the link to that video. How cool! I kinda wish they had realized they are supposed to credit people whose photos they use, but I guess we can't have everything... ;)

  6. As a long standing martial artist, I loved this post and promtly challenged my fiance to a fight using the same wording that Elizabeth did to challenge Hannah. xD