Women in the crowd
On the cusp of the 1920s women attending prize fights was a controversial issue.
In the early nineteenth century, women who attended sporting events were considered suspect, and when Emily Davison, deliberately stepped in front of King George V's horse ‘Anmer’ at the Epsom Derby (4 June 1913), and suffered injuries that proved fatal four days later, it only served to confirm the misogynistic belief that there was no place for women in sport.
But just one month before the Dempsey-Willard fight, on June 4th 1919, Congress passed the 19th amendment (which received final ratification in August 1920) and women all across America took a new breath and went looking for yet more ways to challenge the social norms, including attendance at prize fights.
At a time when the cigar was being feminized into the cigar(ette) and deliberately marketed to the suffrage(ette), (something the movement did not considered positive) her daughter the ‘flapper,’ who was bobbing her hair and showing her knees to the public for the first time, was being granted access to all the excitement and drama of competitive sport.
Below are two excerpts, one from the Dempsey-Willard fight, July 4th 1919, and the other Dempsey-Carpentier, July 2nd 1921. Together they show the progression of acceptance that was manifesting itself regarding the issue: ‘should women attend prize fights?’
Toledo’s Day in the Sun, ‘An Account of the 1919 Dempsey-Willard Prize Fight,’ By Willis Stork.
“As the time of the main event got closer the crowds became thicker. The ringside seats were filled, and the general admission areas were well populated. For the first time in boxing history women had been encouraged to attend, and a special canvas-covered pavilion was provided near the outer reaches of the arena. An estimated 500 women filled this section, and although here and there throughout the big arena there were other women, the majority were relegated to their own special section.”
H.L. Mencken, ‘Dempsey v. Carpentier,’ New York World, July 3, 1921
“The crowds in the more expensive sections were well dressed, good-humored and almost distinguished. . . . All the leaders of fashionable and theatrical society were on hand, most of them in checkerboard suits and smoking excellent cigars, or, if female, in new hats and pretty frocks.
Within the range of my private vision, long trained to esthetic alertness, there was not a single homely gal. Four rows ahead of me there were no less than a dozen who would have adorned the ‘Follies.’ Behind me, clad in pink, was a creature so lovely that she caused me to miss most of the preliminaries. She rooted for Carpentier in the French language, and took the count with heroic fortitude.”