Fighting Men and Fighting Women: American Prizefighting and the Contested Gender Order in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

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1 Sport History Review, 2012, 43, Human Kinetics, Inc. SCHOLARLY ARTICLE Fighting Men and Fighting Women: American Prizefighting and the Contested Gender Order in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries Jeonguk Kim Korea University According to Joan Wallach Scott, gender is a knowledge about sexual difference, that is, a socially agreed upon system of distinction. 1 Another feminist scholar, Judith Butler, argues that gender is a display of social expectations of sexual differences. 2 As these definitions illustrate, gender is not a biological classification. It is a socially constructed understanding about the role of a certain sex. Gender is constructed in diverse cultural spaces, and is embedded in and shaped by power relations between men and women. Sports, for example, ideally demonstrate these power relations. Sports have long served as the consolidation of the social hierarchies based on sexual differences, and boxing, especially, has been regarded as one of the most masculine and gender-defined cultural institutions. As Sarah K. Fields argued, boxing is an extremely physical sport historically designed to promote warrior skill, and as such it is and has been male-dominated. 3 But an examination of American boxing history does not indicate that boxing has been simply a male-dominated and patriarchal institution. For example, even in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when boxing was a more gender-segregated institution, it could not stabilize gender boundaries and seamlessly confirm male cultural hegemony. Insightful scholarly works on prizefighting of the day also ignored it; in The Manly Art: Bare-Knuckle Prize Fighting in America, for example, Eliott J. Gorn defines prizefighting as an emergent sexist institution in the late nineteenth century, but his study featured only men. When women s active roles in relation to prizefighting are not considered, the sport is regarded only as a male preserve to affirm gender order. This perspective dismisses women as victims of masculine culture and represents them as a homogeneous group that lacks agency. In The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays, Clifford Geertz defined culture as an ordered system of meaning and of symbols, in terms of which social interaction takes place and contrasted it with the social system, which is the pattern of social interaction itself. 4 For this reason, Geertz s hermeneutic study of culture argued that a cultural form like the cockfight is a symbolic order, that is, a text reflecting and intensifying competition for social status among Balinese men. Jeonguk Kim is with the Institute of the Study for History at Korea University, Seoul, Korea. 103

2 104 Kim Yet what Geertz overlooked is that people do not share a meaning of a cultural form but they create its diverse meanings. Like Balinese cockfighting, late nineteenth and early twentieth century prizefighting was a multivalent text. It means that men could not fix the meaning of prizefighting to consolidate gender order. Recognizing the textuality of a cultural form helps us shed a new light on the relationship between prizefighting and gender order. While prizefighting allowed men to display and celebrate their aggressive masculinity in common cultural rituals, social boundaries among men were blurred. Nevertheless, this cultural phenomenon did not clarify gender boundaries and stabilize gender order. Women continued to affect the process of the convergence of masculinities through the textualization of prizefighting and to contest gender order. Taking an approach often dismissed by studies of masculine culture, this study recognizes women s participation in the construction of a predominantly male institution and discusses continually constructed, contested, and shifting gender boundaries and changing sexual relationships from the 1880s to the 1900s. This article is divided into four sections. The first section briefly illuminates how prizefighting emerged as a new form of male culture and reinforced gender boundaries and gender order in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The second section deals with female moral reformers and feminists who constructed prizefighting as a symbol of immoral male culture. Internalizing a moral binary between the sexes, these women strengthened existing gender boundaries. But in so doing, they advanced women s political and social rights and even tried to reverse the gender order. The third and fourth sections describe how female spectators and fighters tried to penetrate the male space and disrupt male rituals. These women constructed prizefighting as a unisex sport. They violated and confronted contemporary gender norms and, therefore, contested gender order. As the dynamic relationship between women and prizefighting illustrates, cultural power is not evenly distributed but circulated among social groups. Accordingly, gender relations are continually reconstructed and contested. The Emergence of Boxing as a Male Sport Sports have long been gendering agents, providing perhaps the most problematically gender-defined and gender-divided aspects of social life. Women s involvement in sports is generally limited by stereotypes of women s physical and biological inferiority. 5 When women participate in physical culture, patriarchal society encourages them to play female-appropriate sports that cultivate a sense of beauty and grace. Women may challenge male physical supremacy in traditionally manly sports and increase the possibility of gender confusion. But male-dominated society sexualizes these female players and trivializes their performance. 6 In so doing, male-dominated society constructs sporting ideologies that relate images of physical capability, activity, strength, courage, and aggression to the masculine identity. In contrast, sports contribute to associating feminine roles and female performance with relative weakness, passivity, gentleness, and grace. Accordingly, sports are ideological institutions with symbolic significance that perpetuates gender differences. 7 Even so, these ideas about gender difference do not empower men only in the sporting arena. Physical capability in sports is translated into social capability.

3 American Prizefighting and the Contested Gender Order 105 Manly sports are characterized by aggression and violence. They also display a man s capacity to absorb force and play through pain in pursuit of domination. 8 Accordingly, the appropriate discourse for the practice of power invested in the male sporting body is a military discourse of war and combat of struggle, confrontations, strategies and tactics. 9 By implication, these military characteristics of manly sports make men fit for work (business), battle, and imperial projects. As a result, the culture of sports has supported the greater power of men as a gender class in the key economic, political, and military power apparatus of civil and state society. 10 While the relationship between ideal manliness and sports seems commonsensical, manliness and sports are not inherently connected. Athletic masculinity has not always been acceptable to men. In the mid-nineteenth century, Victorian middle-class men generally opposed the alternative culture of the sporting fraternity. 11 Middle-class men s antipathy toward sports was closely related to changes in the perception of ideal manhood. The growing market economy of the early nineteenth century disintegrated rural communities. In a society in which an economically independent man was idealized, middle-class men got their sense of manliness being good breadwinners, faithful husbands, and reliable fathers rather than through vile amusement. 12 Accordingly, men who aspired to gain economic success and independence saw sports simply as dissipations. Yet middle-class men gradually came back to sporting fields after the midnineteenth century. Self-control, soberness, thrift, delayed gratification, and rationality, which were ideal manly qualities in an economic system of competitions of the small businessmen and farmers, became increasingly outdated in the late nineteenth century world of bureaucratic corporations. Structural changes in the economy turned most men into dependent wage earners. Thus, proving manliness through success in work and economic independence became an unfulfilled dream. Sports emerged as a way to expel the feeling of castration and prove manliness. 13 While Victorian manhood appreciated mental training and strong character to achieve occupational success and economic independence, many middle-class men of the late nineteenth century appreciated the martial spirit, courage, aggressiveness, virility, and physical toughness that might be gained through physical culture. 14 But working-class men who valued these traits displayed them in violent and physical sports. Accordingly, sports encouraged middle-class men to embrace traditional working-class masculinity. They also helped construct the more egalitarian concept of manliness. When primitive characters and physicality became the most important qualifications to be a man, masculinity referred to characteristics that all biologically defined men could have. 15 As a sign of this cultural phenomenon of the convergence of masculinities, violent and physical sports attracted not only ethnic working-class men, but also old-stock middle-class men. These sports never acted as social levelers for men, but they did contribute to constructing men as a social and cultural category, and to reinforcing male domination in society. Prizefighting originated from fairground fighting activities in eighteenthcentury England. In 1743, the contemporary fighter Jack Broughton codified the first set of rules. This early boxing was a bare-knuckle fight without a time limit. A fight ended only when either man was totally knocked out. The rules also allowed wrestling. As a result, the two fighters could not maintain a distance from one another, so their defense skills were almost useless. Thus, the most important

4 106 Kim requirements for victory were the courage to rush the opponent continually and the ability to endure unlimited pain. In 1838, the London Prize Ring Rules replaced the old set of rules and regulated notorious attacking methods like butting, biting, and gouging. But the brutal nature of the sport did not change. Prizefighting was still a test of brute, not brain. 16 The introduction of this underground sport in the United States resulted in cultural struggles between ethnic working-class and middle-class men. Prizefighting promoted irrational working-class masculinity that valorized reckless courage and the coolness to endure unbearable bodily pain. Prizefighting also accompanied such acts as indiscreet spending, hard drinking, and gambling. Accordingly, this sport gave working-class men ample opportunity to express antagonism toward such middle-class values as humanism, self-control, rationality, work ethic, the importance of accumulation, and belief in a future-oriented lifestyle. It was not a famous writer, such as Lambert A. Wilmer, alone who saw the prizefight as the most demoralizing, beastly, disgusting, and scandalous affair. For middle-class men, the fight was a brutal and loathsome event and a humiliating exhibition of human depravity. 17 The headlines of fight reports were full of words like savage, cruel, brutal, and bloody, which emphasized the repulsiveness of fights until the mid-1880s. 18 Middle-class men also argued that there was no productive industry in the prizefight; prizefighting would likely make young men pursue brutal careers rather than honorable and legitimate callings. 19 It was even worse than vagrancy. 20 In fact, the legal repression became harsher in America because prizefighting was defined not only as assault and battery, but also as a felony in most states. Nevertheless, prizefighting, which was once enjoyed mostly by Irish workingclass men, began to draw fans regardless of class, ethnicity, and race in the second half of the nineteenth century. English fighter Jem Mace, who came to America to meet Tom Allen at New Orleans in 1870, described spectators as follows: Never in all my experience had I seen or imagined so picturesque and motley an assemblage. Men of all nationalities, seemingly, were there, and of all colors certainly. Creole dandies, glossy-coated and patent-leather booted, jostled bronzed backwoodsmen in homespun. Broad-hatted planters, in suits of white nankeen, were cheek by jowl with smartly-togged sports from New York and St. Louis.... And mingling with these aristocrats of the ring-side were numbers of plantation Negroes, some jet black, some brown to pale yellow, but all attired in the most variegated and brilliant cotton clothing, similar to that which is worn, or rather which used to be worn, by the nigger minstrels on Margate Sands. 21 Prizefighting blurred social boundaries among men. In a fight venue of the 1880s, gentlemen and poor men would wrestle for better spots under the prevailing effect of the sport on people of all classes. 22 It was also an unusual space of ethnic and racial integration. For instance, the 1882 match between John L. Sullivan and Tug Wilson drew a motley crowd: Artists, actors, burglars, bankers, bunko-steerers, beer-jerkers, blacksmiths, confidence men, cappers, clog-dancers, clerks, capitalists, captains, Chinese, Danes, doctors, divines, engineers, firemen, Frenchmen, Germans, governors,

5 American Prizefighting and the Contested Gender Order 107 harlots, horse-thieves, idiots, Irish, jail-birds, keno men, lawyers, machinists, Mexicans, negroes, officers, politicians... were jammed together.... From the highest type of respectability to the lowest grade of depravity, every art, profession, vocation, trade and crime had its representatives there, and the capitalist jostled the pickpocket, the judge stood shoulder to shoulder with the sneak-thieves and the senator was cheek by jowl with the thug during the entire evening. 23 As these records illustrate, while social norms excluded women from prizefighting, men of color had a small privilege as a member of the male sex. They not only fought with white men in the ring, but also witnessed fights along with white men even in the South. An 1882 report about the heavyweight title match between Paddy Ryan and John L. Sullivan also admitted to the popularity of the sport among men across social divisions, stating that the most remarkable thing about today s prize-fight is, not that it should have been allowed to take place on American soil, but that it should have excited very general public interest in all parts of the country and among many classes of men. 24 In Great Britain, gentlemen more readily embraced this working-class sport. Though prizefighting was illegal, a considerable number of gentlemen also practiced the sport as the art of self-defense. By the 1880s, the English court had distinguished the sparring match from the prizefight and protected the former from legal prosecution. While sparring meant the secure game to display skill as a physical training, prizefighting meant the commercial game to inflict bodily harm on the opponent and knock him out. The American courts also adopted this legal distinction in the 1890s. 25 Yet American athletic club officials, who soon realized the financial prospects of prizefighting, were ready to test the legal boundaries even before this legal distinction was formally accepted. They brought professional fights to clubhouses as early as the late 1880s. In these clubs, fighters put on not less than 5-ounce gloves and fought under the Queensberry rules, which had governed gentlemanly boxing contests since Playing rounds were limited. Referees had a duty to stop a match when either player became helpless. Club officials promoted this new form of prizefighting as boxing. Local politicians, judges, and policemen who had connections with clubs protected these disguised professional bouts. When it was civilized and protected by middle-class institutions, boxing drew more middle-class patrons. With its rising popularity, many middle-class men changed their view of prizefighting. They confirmed manly qualities in this sport and reconstructed ideal masculinity through it. Boxing was becoming a legitimized male culture. In 1888, writer Duffield Osborne argued that civilization had degenerated to womanishness and Americans to a race of eminently respectable female saints. Osborne contended that boxing could counteract this racial decline. He stressed the affirmative manly qualities in prizefighting. For example, according to Osborne, a man who witnessed a fight might take pleasure in the contemplation of skill, adroitness, and strength; of unflinching courage, of steady coolness, and of endurance in bearing fatigue and pain with equanimity. 27 He embraced physical and aggressive working-class masculinity and reconstructed gender differences. In the 1890s, his arguments had many middle-class supporters. For example, Dr. William

6 108 Kim A. Hammond of New York believed that men who witnessed fights or read about them learned the importance of courage and endurance. 28 A club official of the California Athletic Club, Mark K. Frank, stressed that seeing two men trained to the pink of perfection struggling for supremacy was a great incentive for whitecollar and professional men. Frank went on to say that the only way to make every man in the city a trained athlete was to create the interest through the prize-ring. 29 Medical experts and physical educators also contributed to the convergence of masculinities. They made physical capability and toughness a significant sign of manliness and famous boxers symbols of the new masculinity. Dr. Louis F. Sayre pointed out that the body of contemporary fighter John L. Sullivan embodied strength, vitality and activity. 30 After his examination of Sullivan, Dr. Henry Lessing regarded him as a wonderful specimen of manhood. 31 A famous physical educator, Dr. Dudley A. Sargent, also claimed that Sullivan was a magnificent specimen of physical manhood. 32 Now it had become a man s physical capability that impressed medical experts, not his intellect or character. Medical experts continued to construct the famous boxer s body as the source of physically defined masculinity in the 1890s. For example, after conducting a physical examination of Jim Corbett in 1897, physician Dr. J. Guinan proclaimed that his whole physical machinery was in splendid condition. He concluded that Corbett was the most perfect specimen of physical manhood. 33 In 1899, Sargent examined Jim Jeffries and acclaimed him as one of the best proportioned men. 34 Yet there was another way of constructing the convergence of masculinities through boxing. Dr. A. P. O Brien, who examined Corbett in 1897, announced that Corbett was the most perfect specimen of physical manhood without one single flaw in his anatomy. According to O Brien, Corbett s body was constructed through a hard and persistent course of training. 35 In his examination of Battling Nelson, Sargent stressed that, while he was an aggressive and tough fighter, Nelson had high intelligence. Sargent attributed Nelson s success to his ability to think quickly and fast. But for Sargent, a good boxer was not simply a model of physical manhood but also a model of discipline and mind control. Nelson is a chap who is not easily excited. It takes more than a good strong blow to make him mad. I believe he could do almost anything under almost any circumstances, and still keep his head. That may be attributed to his heart and also to the fact that he has trained his mind to obey the orders of his brain. 36 Sargent also maintained that Nelson s athletic body was not naturally given. It was seen as the result of constant training. These experts obviously tried to reconcile rational and controlled middleclass manhood with physical and aggressive working-class masculinity and make the boxer the perfect symbol of the new hegemonic masculinity. Starting in the late 1880s, some boxers developed the rationalized style, focusing on skill, footwork, defense, and game plan versus the traditional style of slugging. The emergence of scientific boxing made many middle-class supporters appreciate this new hegemonic masculinity. William Greer Harrison, an officer of the Olympic Club of San Francisco, believed that scientific boxing matches taught not only courage but also the great advantage of self-control. 37 Robert Edgren, who was a college graduate and later became a boxing writer, celebrated the combative spirit in boxing, but he was also proud that American boxers innovated and rationalized the style. According to Edgren, it reflected American society s culture

7 American Prizefighting and the Contested Gender Order 109 in which social status did not define one s position and social mobility allowed creative people to be promoted. 38 In the late nineteenth century, however, commercial boxing did more to construct an inclusive male culture and reinforce divisions between men and women. In their everyday lives, American men learned the significance of a good boxer s qualities to prove one a better man. In the United States, men had their own ways of resolving personal feuds based on class. While upper- and middle-class men might duel, working-class men often engaged in a rough-and-tumble fight. But in the late nineteenth century, the prize ring rules became a popular method by which men resolved their personal feuds regardless of class, ethnicity, and race. Young gentlemen used the prize ring rules to settle claims of superiority and to resolve love triangles. The love fight was also popular among working-class men. One love triangle even matched a young gentleman with a working-class man in an improvised ring. 39 Because these fights were not confined to a certain social group, they constructed aggressiveness as a common trait among men. These fierce male competitions over mating also stressed men s common biological imperative that caused their aggressiveness heterosexuality. As a result, these fights blurred social boundaries among men and policed gender boundaries by stressing biological differences between the sexes. The prize ring rules were also used to select the best man in a town or a neighborhood. These fights were exceedingly brutal. Prizes were often placed for victors. If a man proved courageous in his fight, he earned respect even if defeated. But it was regarded as shameful when a man in the ring expressed his personal feelings after a fight. 40 Therefore, these fights were rituals to celebrate manly qualities and unify men in certain areas through intense individual competitions. When professional fighters visited towns and cities with their entourages, the ambitious local bullies responded to calls from the touring pugilistic show and participated in fourrounders. Local men supported their bullies regardless of class, ethnicity, or race. 41 In the late nineteenth century, boxing had become a homosocial institution across social divisions. Through this predominantly male institution, men linked manliness with the positively sanctioned use of force and violence. As a result, boxing dramatically displayed masculine identity incorporating images of aggression, activity, strength, courage, will to dominate, and physical ability, and by contrasting it with feminine traits associated with relative weakness, passivity, gentleness, and grace. While professional boxing gradually became a display of science in the 1890s, it also linked manliness with highly valued skills and the rationality that the middle class had traditionally valued. But this convergence of masculinities was based on embracing physicality and aggression. Legitimizing aggressive and tough men, boxing culturally unified men, empowered them, and reinforced gender boundaries. It was a male preserve, a substitute for the old male warrior culture to affirm male cultural hegemony in all aspects of social life. 42 Prizefighting and Women s Moral Superiority Though boxing was a male preserve, it did not seamlessly construct male cultural hegemony. While boxing constructed affirmative male identities, many boxing insiders and fans continued to raise moral questions regarding the sport. Bluffing,

8 110 Kim crookedness, and vicious tricks were common in the ring business. Courageous boxers were idealized, but boxers often failed to adhere to expectations. 43 The ideal manly performance was also contested between aggressive fighters (sluggers) and scientific boxers until the 1900s. These different types of men contested which one was the fantasy figure, signifying the model of masculinity, 44 and therefore, the definition of hegemonic masculinity in the ring had not yet been clarified. 45 Even a boxer s most courageous and aggressive performance could not stabilize gender order when middle-class women viewed boxing as a sign of brutal male culture and claimed women s moral superiority. The Victorian era was characterized by a gender ideology based on the spatial divide of the genders. Reflecting the divisions between workshop and home in the era, the ideology stripped women of positions in the public sphere. Ideal women were supposed to be domestic. But this middle-class patriarchal ideology did provide some compensation for women. Unlike men who lived in amoral (public) spaces, women were considered to be innocent moral guardians. This ideology encouraged women to oversee the education of children and the morals of family members. Yet, while Victorian gender roles idealized domestic women, middle-class women enlarged their moral roles outside the home in the late nineteenth century. A large number of middle-class women participated in social reform movements and joined missionary and temperance organizations. 46 They fought against gambling, prostitution, drinking, dancehalls, and brutal forms of entertainment. In the 1880s, some religious middle-class women also participated in anti-prizefighting agitation. 47 These middle-class women empowered themselves with enduring class and gender morals, which had bolstered patriarchal domination throughout the nineteenth century. They internalized gender roles as moral guardians to oversee men who were likely to fall to temptation. In so doing, these middle-class moral reformers normalized the moral order between the sexes and rationalized women s role in the public sphere. In the late nineteenth century, however, women were not a homogeneous group. Middle-class women were also culturally divided. Feminists revolted against many traditional gender norms. Feminism dates back to 1848 when antislavery activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and others organized the first women s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York, and began to address the institutionalized oppression of women. After the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) and Fifteenth Amendment (1870) enfranchised freed black men but continued to exclude white women from politics. While some female activists supported the Republican Party s effort to ratify the amendments, others witnessed the emergence of a gender-based social hierarchy. They organized an independent movement to enfranchise themselves. In fact, in the late nineteenth century, a white woman s position in society was not clearly superior to that of a black man. White women lacked political rights that were given to black men and they lacked property rights. Even racist discourse of the day did not value white women over black men. For instance, in his influential study about human brains, G. Herve saw black men s racial inferiority in their similarity to white women. 48 He argued that a black man s brain was hardly heavier than that of a white woman. Later, the French scientist Paul Broca and his disciples made brain size a general index of intellectual capacity. The technique for measuring intellectual capacity asserted that white women s brains were more

9 American Prizefighting and the Contested Gender Order 111 like those of gorillas or primitive races than those of white men. 49 The belief in a woman s defective brain was also widely held in the United States. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, psychologists, biologists, and physicians all believed that higher education was detrimental to women and caused sterility. 50 In order to escape this predicament, many feminists fully embraced Victorian white-middle-class values and defined themselves in the frame of the old gender norms. These women supposed that they were moral guardians and cultural disseminators. They needed to control the morals of men and the nation, which gave them a reason to participate in politics. But they also constructed themselves as members of the white middle class against working-class white men, immigrant men, and black men, who were considered morally and culturally inferior. As a result, many white female activists empowered themselves as moral reformers and missionaries of civilization for lower orders and lower races and justified their political rights by superior positions in class, ethnic, and racial hierarchies. 51 Accordingly, while these feminists tried to contest gender order, they remained Victorian classists, ethnocentrists, and racists. Victorian moral reformers and feminists did not represent a binary division between the old woman and the new woman. Rather, they were often unified over moral issues. Like female moral reformers, suffragists expressed their antagonism toward prizefighting by defining it as a sign of the immorality of the male-dominated world (politics) and rationalized female suffrage to abolish it. One of the early suffragists, Matilda Joslyn Gage, addressed prizefighting as a symbol of barbarism against Christianized civilization, which women tried to protect. She stressed that women s presence in politics would have an uplifting moral effect on a society in which men dominated and barbarism prevailed. 52 Likewise, Ellen Battelle Dietrick argued that masculine politics encouraged barbarism. Prizefighting was a representative symbol of barbarism. Criticizing Florida Governor Goodwin Smith, who defined politics as a masculine space so as to exclude women from it, Dietrick argued that only enfranchised women could clean up politics and stop the male barbarism. 53 Other suffragists also affirmed Victorian moral order between the sexes and urged local governments to allow women s suffrage and ban the brutal business that was moving its stage to respectable clubs. 54 One suffragist and journalist, Elia Peatties, was conscious of prizefighting as a gender and class marker. Peatties attributed the popularity of prizefighting to an anxiety that men of all classes shared. She believed that men innately desired to be cavemen who strove to prove manly strength among their fellows. Peatties argued that this old desire dominated boxers, fight fans, and newspapermen and produced barbarians in civilization. Peatties denied the claim that prizefighting was a display of courage and skill. She said that the popularity of prizefighting among men of all classes reflected the degradation of gentlemen. Valuing middle-class ideals like the control of brutality and desire and the work ethic, Peatties stigmatized men of all classes and suggested that the entire male gender was an undesirable class that digressed from middle-class norms. 55 The contemporary syndrome of manly sports embarrassed another feminist, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. She feared that when men realized their physical superiority, they disabled Victorian moral order between the sexes and decreased women s cultural power. She warned against it: It is good to see a man strong, healthy, well-developed all men should be that at least; but to make beauty, much

10 112 Kim more perfection, requires more than this. The Dahomeyan is strong, healthy and well developed; so the Esquimaux; so is the Apache; so is many a proud athlete of the ring and track. But beauty is more, far more. 56 Gilman resorted to the sense of class and racial superiority to frustrate a new patriarchal order, which was based on male physicality. She criticized men s attempts to translate their physical superiority into social superiority. In the same vein, Gilman blamed the new symbol of masculine sporting culture. She defined prizefighting as the decay of civilization and a savage way of displaying masculinity. 57 Thus, the popularity of this brutal sport among men rationalized women s role in politics. Another feminist, A. E. Thomas, used prizefighting not only as a gender marker, but also as an ethnic marker to advocate women s political rights. Thomas appealed to anti-immigration sentiments, which were shared by Anglo-Saxon middle-class men. She deplored that women were deprived of suffrage whereas white foreigners who could speak only a half dozen words of the English language elected prizefighters and saloon keepers as their representatives. 58 The union between Victorian moral reformers and feminists over the problem of prizefighting was formalized in 1897 when Nevada legalized professional fighting to permit an anticipated fight between Jim Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons. Promoter Dan Stuart also planned to admit women to the arena for the first time and film the championship fight. Frances E. Willard, president of the National Woman s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), blamed Nevada, which allowed the bruising ring, and urged women in the country not to subscribe to newspapers that furnished extended accounts of prizefights. 59 Willard and the national officers of the WCTU appealed to President William McKinley to prevent the kinetoscope exhibitions of the degrading spectacles. In the letter, the WCTU officers assumed the role of moral guardians and stressed the demoralizing effect of the fight picture on youth. 60 Willard also sent a letter to Susan B. Anthony and urged her to participate in protests against the Corbett Fitzsimmons fight and sensational journalism. Anthony, who led the feminist and suffragist movements after Stanton, positively responded to the letter: Your circular letter came duly, proposing that women should refuse to patronize the so-called yellow newspapers, and also protest against prizefighting. 61 Anthony was a classist. She complained that, while men of disrespectable classes enjoyed the brutal entertainment, women lacked the same voting rights as those men. Viewing prizefighting and yellow journalism as symbols of degrading male culture, Anthony agreed that women s moral influence in politics could be a remedy. The WCTU ardently agitated against boxing and fight films. The Central WCTU adopted a resolution to prohibit the kinetoscope exhibition of the fight and argued that these kinetoscope representations brutalized all who witnessed them. 62 In Maine, the local WCTU succeeded in passing a law prohibiting the exhibition of fight films. 63 The organization also appealed to Congress to prohibit the transmission by mail or inter-state commerce of pictures or descriptions of prize fights and reproduction of prize fights by kinetoscope in the District of Columbia and the territories. 64 The WCTU was consistently active against prizefighting in the 1900s. The Department of Peace and International Arbitration, which was established by the WCTU, also joined in the anti-prizefighting agitation. 65 As a pacifist organization, it objected to all violence and militarism. At its seventh convention, the organization

11 American Prizefighting and the Contested Gender Order 113 defined prizefighting, lynching, and capital punishment as man s cruelty to man. 66 The organization again brought the issue of prizefighting to the eighth convention of the World s Woman s Christian Temperance Union. 67 At its ninth convention, the organization announced a resolution to protest against toy weapons of warfare for children, the indiscriminate sale of fire arms, military drill in schools and higher seats of learning, lynching, prize-fighting, and capital punishment. 68 Feminists also continued to use prizefighting to justify their political causes. In 1907, a female suffragist organization, the Portia Club, defined prizefighting as a relic of barbarity and pressed female suffrage to politicians. The club members argued that prizefighting would be put down when universal suffrage allowed women to enlarge their traditional role as moral guardian into politics. 69 In her Equal Suffrage, Helen Laura Sumner also justified women s political rights against the men of notoriously immoral life, who dominated politics and protected prizefighting and laws of vicious tendency. 70 In the 1900s, suffragists tried to prove women s uplifting moral effect in politics, and they succeeded in stopping fights and passing anti-prizefighting laws in several states. 71 Relying on Victorian gender roles, these anti-prizefighting female activists constructed themselves as moral guardians to enlarge their social and political roles. Accordingly, while they contested gender order, they made prizefighting a gender marker and strengthened the cultural boundaries between the sexes. But these gender boundaries were vulnerable. Counter to middle-class female activists expectations, not all women were moral guardians. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some women empowered themselves in ways that moralistic female activists could not accept: they participated in prizefighting as spectators and fighters, thus contesting gender boundaries that were drawn by both male boxing supporters and middle-class female activists. Women at Fights and Theaters In the nineteenth century, contemporary gender norms did not allow women to witness professional fights. When heavyweight champion John L. Sullivan met Charley Mitchell in France in 1887, Sullivan s mistress, Ann Livingston, had to dress as a boy to witness the bout. 72 Watching the fight was considered unsuitable for genteel women, but women continually penetrated this male institution. Fighters wives were occasionally present at fights. 73 In rural areas and mining towns in which the constraint of social norms was less tight, bouts were sometimes community affairs. 74 In 1884, a local match in Kansas featured scores of young girls ball games as a preliminary show and allowed these girls to witness the bout. They not only witnessed the fight but also were most demonstrative, crowded up to the ropes among the men. Some of them surely had followed these unusual community affairs before: When the men pulled off their shirts a few of the young girls blushed and turned away, but one young miss of 18 proudly announced with the air of a veteran that she had been to three fights in her time. 75 Athletic clubs made prizefighting a big business throughout the 1890s. Women s interest in prizefighting was also noticeable. The Sullivan Corbett fight in 1892 attracted not only men s attention, but women also followed news about the fight through bulletins and newspapers. The editorial of a respectable

12 114 Kim magazine deplored that some women had a good deal of interest in the result of a prize-fight. 76 But women had difficulty attending fights when all the fights were held in clubs. Clubs had been traditional male spaces. Because clubs also tried to enhance the social position of this semi-legal sport, they did not dare to risk its reputation by allowing female spectators. Nevertheless, some women did not give up. Women in male attire attended the Jack Dempsey Bob Fitzsimmons fight, which was held at the Olympic Club of New Orleans in 1892; no less than ten women were in the audience in male attire. One police lieutenant arrested a handsome short-haired woman who gave her name as Emma Walters; she was a variety actress from Denver and was arraigned for violating the city ordinance relative to masquerading. 77 The Jim Corbett Peter Jackson bout in San Francisco also failed to police gender boundaries in the clubs. According to one report, two society ladies of the Pacific coast dressed themselves in male attire and witnessed the contest under the escort of their husbands. 78 Yet commercialism was opening a new possibility for female spectatorship. In the 1890s, professional promoters, who were independent of athletic clubs, began to make fights the biggest spectacles in the West. They built big arenas for fights and needed to fill these arenas and enhance boxing s respectability to secure legal protection and survive anti-boxing movements. They thought that allowing respectable women into the arena and advertising the civility of the fight might be the answer. In 1897, a famous promoter, Dan Stuart, began to lobby the bankrupt state of Nevada to sponsor a fight between Corbett and Fitzsimmons. Whereas the state legislature voted against female suffrage, it legalized professional fighting to protect the heavyweight championship bout. Stuart built a new arena in Carson City that could accommodate 17,000 people, with an estimated gate receipt of $300,000. Stuart planned to allow properly escorted ladies to witness the fight. 79 Stuart s decision resulted in strong objections from John L. Sullivan. The former heavyweight champion believed that the fight was an exclusively male ritual, but Stuart ignored Sullivan s objections. 80 Stuart expected middle-class women s presence in the arena to help control unruly elements among spectators. The master of ceremonies, Billy Madden, made a public statement for male spectators and disclosed Stuart s intention: Gentlemen, you will please keep order while this fight is going on for the world s championship. If you make noise or excitement you interfere with the men while they are fighting, and another thing, there are ladies present. 81 Stuart was prepared to blur gender boundaries to garner respect for his business rather than maintain prizefighting as working-class-style male entertainment. Thus, women in the stadium were expected to act as moralizing agents who helped control unruly male spectators. Many newspapers that capitalized on prizefights in the 1890s would not risk arousing moralists criticism. For example, they did not report women s disorderly behavior in the arenas. Instead, their reports reflected a potential threat from female spectators by depicting them as genteel cheerers who sedately witnessed the display of masculinity from a distance. 82 This juxtaposition maintained a sexual divide between activism and passivity. Maintaining the discipline of female spectators was not an easy task. One can guess from some records that spectatorship gave women ample opportunity to violate contemporary gender norms. The famous 1897 fight also showed that gender

13 American Prizefighting and the Contested Gender Order 115 boundaries were contested: Fitzsimmons brought his wife Rose to Carson. This was the first time a boxer s wife had witnessed her husband s fight at ringside. The former vaudeville acrobat was an assertive woman. She had been a spokesperson for her husband and involved in his business. 83 Mrs. Fitzsimmons s manner was never consistent with contemporary gender norms, and she was thus a source of annoyance for Corbett s party. Corbett s manager, William Brady, recalled that she was constantly loudly coaching her husband in terms of the ring. 84 In the ring, Gentleman Corbett also faced an unexpected situation. A blonde woman who sat with her hair loose, hat jammed down over one ear, the blood from Fitz spattering her own face continuously yelled at him at ringside. Corbett recalled that she yelled things that were not at all flattering either to my skill as a fighter or manly conduct as a gentleman. 85 Because female spectators raised a threat to contemporary gender norms, men cast suspicious glances at them. According to an 1897 fight report, the most curious members of the spectators were a few women who had braved public opinion for the new sensation. They were mostly of the per-oxide blonde order and some of them were not particularly difficult to classify. 86 The report tried to affirm old gender and class norms by implying that female spectators were members of lower orders whose sexual behavior was questionable. Gender boundaries were contested in the late nineteenth-century stadium in the West. But until the 1910s, Eastern clubs were still gender-segregated institutions. 87 Most club officials did not allow women to enter a building where a prizefight would take place. Accordingly, club fights drew only a limited number of female spectators. Even in the East, however, some women still braved the stares and comments of the opposite sex and the scorn of their own and sat out fights. 88 In spite of men s suspicious glances at women, fights in the West continuously drew a considerable number of female spectators under male escort. A liberal sprinkling of women attended the fight between Marvin Hart and Jack Root in Reno in Even Lieutenant Governor Limuel Allen attended the fight with his wife. 89 Boxing magnate Tex Rickard saw 1,500 women in attendance at the 1906 fight between Joe Gans and Battling Nelson in Goldfield, Nevada. Rickard also did not hesitate to allow women to witness the historic fight between Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries in While Rickard prevented toughs from entering his new arena by charging more than $10 for each seat, he had screened boxes for women. Although men wanted women to be moralizing agents in the arena, women continued to upend men s expectations. Drama critic Ashton Stevens claimed he accepted women s presence in the arena as long as they properly acted as spectators, but he stressed that there were women who were in search of some new torment for their sagging nerves. Stevens, who attended the Battling Nelson Jimmie Britt fight, found that only a few of the female spectators looked decent. 91 The 1910 Johnson Jeffries fight also drew many female spectators, but a reporter still denied they were real representatives of American womanhood: The promoters had erected a special box for their accommodation, but the occupants were, for the most part, not the women one meets in society, and, perhaps, not the women one ought to meet anywhere. 92 The 1897 fight was also the first championship bout that was reproduced as a fight film. Stuart and Enoch Rector s Veriscope Company distributed the fight film

14 116 Kim nationally and abroad. The Veriscope evidence of female spectators in the arena caused culture shock, but the fight pictures were a hit among women. In fact, women were estimated to constitute 60 percent of Chicago s patronage of the fight film. 93 According to a female reporter who watched the film in Manhattan, this transgression still made female spectators feel ashamed. In fact, the reporter pretended not to notice her friends in the theater. As with many other young women, handsome Corbett was her favorite. 94 But one San Francisco society woman, who still saw the sport as vulgar and savage entertainment, enjoyed the act of transgression itself in the theater. 95 Although women watched the fight pictures for different reasons, they all blurred gender boundaries. By 1910, women made up a considerable portion of the fight picture spectators. 96 Boxing was no longer the exclusive domain of men. The demoralizing influence of fight film among women and children was a new concern for men. The Reverend Louis J. Sawyer, who defined prizefighting as a discarded relic of barbarianism and degenerate and degenerating entertainment, expressed his concern about the negative impact of mass technologies on women and children. Women and children, while not admitted to the ring, are, nevertheless, corrupted by the unlawful pictorial presentations of those brutalities in our nickelodeons. 97 Cardinal James Gibbons, one of leading anti-boxing activists in the 1900s, also criticized the exhibition of the fight pictures and urged respectable citizens to protect young men and women from their immoral effects. 98 As these men foresaw, mass technologies and female spectatorship extended the influence of the disreputable sport across gender boundaries and contradicted the gender division that was based on Victorian moral order. Boxing Women Women spectators, in arenas or theaters, disrupted a ritual in which men naturalized physical capability and aggressiveness as their common trait. Nevertheless, their agency was still limited. Female spectatorship often played dual roles in the construction of gender relations. It blurred gender boundaries by allowing women to enter the public sphere and leave behind the gender role of moral guardian. But female spectatorship also reinforced gender order by relegating women to supportive roles at fights. Women acted as cheerers for men who dramatically displayed their physical and cultural differences from the weaker and gentler sex. But women could more actively participate in prizefighting. In the late nineteenth century, some working-class women not only began to practice the gentler form of boxing (sparring) but, like men, also fought for prizes. The existence of female prizefighters offered conspicuous proof that old middle-class gender ideologies were being contested. In the late nineteenth century, the ongoing cult of domesticity portrayed women as moral agents, but physical development became men s exclusive trait. The perception of the female body only slowly changed when physical experts justified women s participation in physical culture. But the cultural turn from the cult of domesticity to the affirmation of female physicality was still unfavorable to women. New sporting ideals confirmed women s physical activities only as a means to make them good producers and mothers. This conservative approach to physical education was reflected in its limits on women s sporting activities. Sporting activities were rigidly gendered. In fact, most influential physical educators like Luther

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