Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the American media became more accepting of female boxers, even in large metropolises. In 1891, underneath the write-up of the swanky annual New York Chamber of Commerce dinner where the city’s wealthiest men smoked cigars and consumed steaks at Delmonico’s, an article appeared in the New Hampshire Sentinel detailing the “notorious scandal” of two women meeting for a boxing match in Brooklyn. Hattie Leslie, already a fixture in New York’s boxing community, issued a challenge—$25 to any woman that Hattie could not knock out within four rounds. The Grand Street Theatre filled with local ‘toughs,’ over 2,000 people, half of whom were women. Rising to the challenge was Gussie Freeman, a New York blueblood who defied her social standing to face Hattie Leslie in front of a frenzied crowd. The battle would eventually be broken up by the police, although the officers apparently watched alongside the rowdy crowd, only to break in when the women were too bloody for even the saltiest New York city policeman. News reports, as per usual, bleated about the shocking demonstration of female fighting as a humiliating to the great city of New York. Yet both women were already prominent features of the late 19th century sports media complex, simultaneously praised and punished for their pugilistic careers, and neither of them gave a single fuck.
Born in 1868 in Buffalo, New York, Hattie Leslie was, according to The National Police Gazette, considered “the champion female pugilist of the world” who would challenge any woman. A veritable Amazon, Hattie weighed 199 pounds, stood five feet, seven and a half inches tall, and was described as “a good-looking brunette” who “does not look tough” by the Police Gazette. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Hattie was “a boxer of ….View full article