We don’t often think about women and boxing, but according the International Female Boxing Association, women have been boxing since 1722 when British female boxer Elizabeth Wilkinson defeated Martha Jones in a public bout. In eighteenth-century Britain, women were allowed to punch, kick, knee, maul, and scratch any part of an opponent’s body and were also allowed to throw. These bouts occurred sporadically throughout the 1700s, and women were often seriously injured as a result of the type of fighting permitted.
Women’s boxing officially arrived in the United States in 1876 when female boxers Nell Saunders and Rose Harland fought each other at Hills Theater in New York City for a silver butter dish. In the decade following this match, regulations were applied to boxing, and in 1904 women’s boxing was on display at the Olympic Games in St. Louis, Missouri.
According to Women’s Boxing, The development of women’s boxing gained great momentum in the 1970s. In January 1975, Eva Shain became the first female to judge a professional fight, and in 1977, she was a judge for the World championship bout between Muhammad Ali and Earnie Shavers at Madison Square Gardens.
Following Shain’s establishment as the first female boxing judge, women across the United States began to receive boxing licenses, encouraging other women to learn the sport. Discrimination against female boxers continued through the 1980s, however; and some instances involved the American Civil Liberties Union, hunger strikes, and court cases.
Finally, in 1993, Dallas Malloy, a sixteen-year-old boxer, challenged the USA Boxing bylaw that discriminated against women competing in bouts. She won the case and fought against Heather Poyner in Washington at a USA Boxing-sanctioned bout. Later that year, USA Boxing adopted official rules and regulations regarding women’s amateur boxing. During the rest of the 1990s, women’s boxing became more widespread and was included in the New York Daily News Golden Gloves tournament.
In 1997, the International Female Boxing Association was formed to promote women’s boxing. The IFBA set out rules and regulations for women’s boxing and weight divisions. The organization supports women’s boxing by advocating for proper women’s boxing equipment and overall safety and broadcasting women’s boxing news.