“The New Woman and the Manly Art”: Women and Boxing in Nineteenth-Century Canada

in Sport History Review
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  • 1 Western University
  • 2 St. Francis Xavier University
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On July 27, 1859, “Canada” Kate Clark met two Americans, Nellie Stem and Mary Dwyer, for a pair of prize fights in Fort Erie, Canada West. Beginning their adventure in Buffalo, New York, they rowed their way across the Niagara River to the fighting grounds in the British colony. Like pugilists before them, they stripped to the waist to limit potential grappling in battle. Both the journey and pre-fight fight preparations were tried and true components of mid-nineteenth century prize fighting. Although the press, and later historians, overwhelmingly associated such performances with male combatants, women were indeed active in Canadian pugilistic circles, settling scores, testing their mettle, and displaying their fistic abilities both pre- and post-Confederation. In this article, we begin to untangle the various threads of female pugilism, situating these athletes and performers within the broader literature on both boxing and women's sport in Canada. By examining media reports of female boxers—both in sparring and prize fighting—we hope to provide a historiographic foundation for further discussions of early female pugilism, highlighting the various ways these women upheld and challenged the notion of the “new woman” in Canada.

MacIntosh Ross is with Western University, London, Ontario, Canada. Kevin B. Wamsley is with St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Ross (gross7@uwo.ca) is corresponding author.