“The Matilda Effect”: How Pioneering Women Scientists Have Been Denied Recognition and Written Out of Science History

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The history of science, like most every history we learn, comes to us as a procession of great, almost exclusively white, men, unbroken but for the occasional token woman—well-deserving of her honors but seemingly anomalous nonetheless. “If you believe the history books,” notes the Timeline series The Matilda Effect, “science is a guy thing. Discoveries are made by men, which spur further innovation by men, followed by acclaim and prizes for men. But too often, there is an unsung woman genius who deserves just as much credit” and who has been overshadowed by male colleagues who grabbed the glory.

In 1993, Cornell University historian of science Margaret Rossiter dubbed the denial of recognition to women scientists "the Matilda effect," for suffragist and abolitionist Matilda Joslyn Gage, whose 1893 essay “Woman as an Inventor” protested the common assertion that “woman… possesses no inventive or mechanical genius." Gage wrote that "even the United States census" failed "to enumerate her among the inventors of the country.” Such assertions, Gage proceeded to demonstrate, “are carelessly or ignorantly made… although woman’s scientific education has been grossly neglected, yet some of the most important inventions of the world are due to her.”




Over 100 years later, Rossiter’s tenacious work in unearthing the contributions of U.S. women scientists inspired the History of Science Society to name a prestigious prize after her. The Timeline series profiles of the few of the women whom it describes as prime examples of the Matilda effect, including Dr. Lise Meitner, the Austrian-born physicist and pioneer of nuclear technology who escaped the Nazis and became known in her time as “the Jewish Mother of the Bomb,” though she had nothing to do with the atomic bomb. Instead, “Meitner led the research that ultimately discovered nuclear fission.” But Meitner would become “little more than a footnote in the history of Nazi scientists and the birth of the Atomic age.”

Instead, Meitner’s colleague Otto Hahn received the accolades, a Nobel Prize in Chemistry and “renown as the discoverer of nuclear fission. Meitner, who directed Hahn’s most significant experiments and calculated the energy release resulting from fission, received a few essentialist headlines followed by decades of obscurity.” (See Meitner and Hahn in the photo above.) Likewise, the name of Alice Augusta Ball has been “all but scrubbed from the history of medicine,” though it was Ball, an African American chemist from Seattle, Washington, who pioneered what became known as the Dean Method, a revolutionary treatment for leprosy.

Ball conducted her research at the University of Hawaii, but she tragically died at the age of 24, in what was likely a lab accident, before the results could be published. Instead, University President Dr. Arthur Dean, who had co-taught chemistry classes with Ball, continued her work. But he failed “to mention Ball’s key contribution” despite protestations from Dr. Harry Hollmann, a surgeon who worked with Ball on treating leprosy patients. Dean claimed credit, and published their work under his name. Decades later, "the scant archival trail of Alice Ball was rediscovered…. In 2000, a plaque was installed at the University of Hawaii commemorating Ball’s accomplishments.”

Other women in the Matilda effect series include bacterial geneticist Esther Lederberg, who made amazing discoveries in genetics that won her husband a Nobel Prize; Irish astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967, but was excluded from the Nobel awarded to her thesis supervisor Antony Hewish and astronomer Martin Ryle. A similar fate befell Dr. Rosalind Franklin, the chemist excluded from the Nobel awarded to her colleagues James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins for the discovery of DNA.

These prominent examples are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to women who made significant contributions to scientific history and were rewarded by being written out of it and denied awards and recognition in their lifetime. For more on the history of U.S. women in science and the social forces that worked to exclude them, see Margaret Rossiter’s three-volume Women Scientists in America series: Struggles and Strategies to 1940, Before Affirmative Action, 1940-1972, and Forging a New World since 1972. And read Timeline’s Matilda Effect series of articles here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Sarah Bernhardt Becomes the First Woman to Play Hamlet (1899)

At one time, the name Sarah Bernhardt was synonymous with melodramatic self-presentation. In her heyday, the actress created a category all her own—impossible to judge by the usual standards of the dramatic arts. Or as Mark Twain put it, “there are five kinds of actresses: bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses—and then there is Sarah Bernhardt.”

Admired and beloved by Victor Hugo and playwright Edmond Rostand, who called her “the queen of the pose and the princess of the gesture,” Bernhardt commanded attention in every role, and became infamous as “a canny self-promoter,” as Hannah Manktelow writes. Bernhardt “cultivated her image as a mysterious, exotic outsider. She claimed to sleep in a coffin and encouraged the circulation of outlandish rumors about her eccentric behavior.”




Bernhardt’s worldwide fame rested not only on her public relations skill, but also on her willingness to take dramatic risks most actresses of the time would never dare. In one notable example, she played Hamlet in 1899, at age 55, in a French adaptation of Shakespeare’s play. What’s more, she boldly undertook the role in London, then again in Stratford at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. Finally, she became the first woman to portray Hamlet on film (see a short clip above).

Reactions to her stage performance by contemporaries were mixed. In her review, actress and writer Elizabeth Robins praised Bernhardt’s “amazing skill” in playing “a spirited boy… with impetuosity, a youthfulness, almost childish.” But Robins issued a qualification at the outset: “for a woman to play at being a man is, surely, a tremendous handicap,” she writes, a criticism echoed by English essayist Max Beerbohm, who went so far as to deny women the power to create art.

“Creative power,” wrote Beerbohm, “the power to conceive ideas and execute them, is an attribute of virility; women are denied it, in so far as they practice art at all, they are aping virility, exceeding their natural sphere. Never does one understand so well the failure of women in art as when one sees them deliberately impersonating men upon the stage.” Setting Beerbohm’s categorically sexist assertions aside (for the moment), we must mark the irony that both he and Robins are troubled by a woman playing a man, given that all of Shakespeare’s female characters were once played by men, a fact both critics somehow fail to mention.

Where Beerbohm saw in Bernhardt’s performance a mere “aping of virility,” Robins, unhampered by Beerbohm's ugly misogyny, observed the great actress in vivid detail, in an essay that brings Bernhardt’s Hamlet to life with descriptions of her, for example, “appealing dumbly for another sign” after seeing her father’s ghost (on painted gauze), “and passing pathetic fluttering hands over the unresponsive surface, groping piteously like a child in the dark.”

The pathos of Bernhardt’s performance was undercut, Robins felt, by some clumsy moments, such as her  mistreatment of poor Yorick’s skull. (A real human skull, by the way, given to her by Victor Hugo). “It was not pleasant,” writes Robins, “to see the grinning object handled so callously…. Indeed, I feel sure that Madame Bernhardt treats her lap-dog more considerately.” On the whole, however, Robins felt the performance a truly dramatic achievement through Bernhardt’s “mastery of sheer poise… of sparing, clean-cut gesture… the effect that the artist in her wanted to produce.”

Further up, see an ink drawing of Bernhardt as Hamlet by Reginal Cleaver and, just above, an 1899 postcard photograph (with Hugo’s gifted skull). Read more about Bernhardt’s performance, and the attendant publicity, at the Shakespeare Blog, and learn about a new play based on Bernhardt’s Hamlet called “The Divine Sarah” at the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Shakespeare & Beyond.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Iconic Urinal & Work of Art, “Fountain,” Wasn’t Created by Marcel Duchamp But by the Pioneering Dada Artist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

In the introduction to her book Broad Strokes, writer and art history scholar Bridget Quinn describes her discovery of Lee Krasner, accomplished abstract expressionist painter who just happened to have been married to Jackson Pollock. That biographical detail warranted Krasner a footnote, but little more, in the art books Quinn studied in college. Learning of Krasner sent Quinn on a quest to find other women left behind by art history. “My fixation with these artists went beyond feminism,” she writes, “if it had anything to do with it at all. I identified with these painters and sculptors the way my friends identified with Joy Division or The Clash or Hüsker Dü.”

Much has changed since 1987, when Quinn’s fandom began, but Krasner is still one of the few female artists to have ever had a retrospective show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. And one artist every student of art history should know, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, remains almost completely obscure. What’s so important about von Freytag-Loringhoven? She was a pioneering Dada artist and poet—well-known in the 1910s and 20s. “Her work was championed by Ernest Hemingway and Ezra Pound,” writes John Higgs at the Independent (she appears in Pound’s Canto XCV). She “is now recognized as the first American Dada artist, but it might be equally true to say she was the first New York punk, 60 years too early.”




Von Freytag-Loringhoven also deserves the credit, it seems, for one of the most groundbreaking art objects to ever appear in a gallery: Fountain, the urinal signed “R. Mutt” that Marcel Duchamp claimed as his own and which has made him a legend in the history of art. The story, I imagine, might seem depressingly familiar to every woman who has ever had a male boss publish her work with his name on it. Even more frustratingly, the “glaring truth has been known for some time in the art world,” according to the blog of art magazine See All This. Yet, “each time it has to be acknowledged, it is met with indifference and silence.”

The truth first emerged in a letter from Duchamp to his sister—discovered in 1982 and dated April 11th, 1917, a few days before the exhibit in which Fountain first appeared—in which he “wrote that a female friend using a male alias had sent it in for the New York exhibition.” The name, “Richard Mutt,” was a pseudonym chosen by Freytag-Loringhoven, who was living in Philadelphia at the time and whom Duchamp knew well, once pronouncing that "she is not a Futurist. She is the future.” (See her Portrait of Marcel Duchamp, above, in a 1920 photograph by Charles Sheeler.)

Why did she never claim Fountain as her own? “She never had the chance,” notes See All This. The urinal was rejected by the exhibition organizers (Duchamp resigned from their board in protest), and it was probably, subsequently thrown away; nothing remained but a photograph by Alfred Stieglitz. Von Freytag-Loringhoven died ten years later in 1927.

It was only in 1935 that surrealist André Breton brought attention back to Fountain, attributing it to Duchamp, who accepted authorship and began to commission replicas. The 1917 piece “was destined to become one of the most iconic works of modern art. In 2004, some five hundred artists and art experts heralded Fountain as the most influential piece of modern art, even leaving Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon behind.”

Duchamp’s letter is not the only reason historians have for thinking of Fountain as von Freytag-Loringhoven’s work. “Baroness Elsa had been finding objects in the street and declaring them to be works of art since before Duchamp hit upon the idea of ‘readymades,’” writes Higgs. One such work, a “cast-iron plumber’s trap attached to a wooden box, which she called God” (above), was also misattributed, “assumed to be the work of an artist called Morton Livingston Schaumberg, although it is now accepted that his role in the sculpture was limited to fixing the plumber's trap to its wooden base."

"Fountain is base, crude, confrontational and funny," writes Higgs, "Those are not typical aspects of Duchamp’s work, but they summarize the Baroness and her art perfectly.” Duchamp later claimed to have bought the urinal himself, but later research has shown this to be unlikely. Higgs’ book Stranger Than We Can Imagine explores the issues in more depth, as does an article in Dutch published in the See All This summer issue. What would it mean for the art establishment to acknowledge von Freytag-Loringhoven’s authorship? “To attribute Fountain to a woman and not a man,” the magazine writes, “has obvious, far-reaching consequences: the history of modern art has to be rewritten. Modern art did not start with a patriarch, but with a matriarch."

Learn more about Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven at The Art Story.

via See All This

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Meet “Founding Mother” Mary Katharine Goddard, First Female Postmaster in the U.S. and Printer of the Declaration of Independence

Once again, it’s time for Americans to celebrate their country’s “birthday,” a rather miraculous event, we might say, since the only people present at the birth were founding fathers. See their names on the printed Declaration of Independence above, from the outsized John Hancock, to famous favorites Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and second cousins John and Sam Adams, to a bunch of other guys no one remembers. But wait, zoom in (to the scanned copy here), who’s that at the bottom? No, the very, very bottom, in tiny type…. “Baltimore, in Maryland: Printed by Mary Katharine Goddard.” Who?

“If you’ve never noticed it or heard of her, you aren’t alone,” writes Petula Dvorak at The Washington Post, but Mary Goddard could be called “a Founding Mother, of sorts,” as a publisher of the Maryland Journal, proprietor of a printing press, bookstore owner, and postmaster general of Baltimore.

Goddard was fearless her entire career as one of America’s first female publishers, printing scoops from Revolutionary War battles from Concord to Bunker Hill and continuing to publish after her offices were twice raided and her life was repeatedly threatened by haters.

In “her boldest move,” she put her full name at the bottom of copies of the Declaration that her press printed and distributed to all of the colonies. This was the first copy Americans would see with all of the signers’ name. Goddard had received the commission from Congress and more honors besides. In 1775, she was appointed Baltimore’s first postmaster, serving “under the leadership of Postmaster General Benjamin Franklin,” notes the National Postal Museum. She "may have been the first woman postmaster in colonial America.”




The printing and postal trades were a family business: her father Giles served as postmaster of New London, Connecticut, and her younger brother William established the colonial postal system. Just as she has been sidelined by history, she was sidelined in her lifetime. She “lost her job as publisher,” writes Dvorak, “after her brother married and returned to Baltimore in 1784, taking over the Maryland Journal and ousting his sister.”

And after serving as Baltimore postmaster for 14 years, she was pushed out of the job by Postmaster General Samuel Osgood, who “didn’t think a woman could handle all the travel associated with the job.” (Over 200 merchants and residents of Baltimore petitioned Osgood, to no avail.) The story of Goddard’s life and career is both inspiring and frustrating—but here’s to hoping she makes it into the history books where she belongs. See her printed copy of the Declaration in high-resolution detail at the New York Public Library’s Digital Collections.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Encyclopedia of Women Philosophers: A New Web Site Presents the Contributions of Women Philosophers, from Ancient to Modern

In a recent conversation with Julian Baggini on why there are so few women in academic philosophy, Mary Warnock notes that “of all the humanities departments in British universities, only philosophy departments have a mere 25% women members.” That number is even lower in the US. "Why should this be?" Warnock asks. She asserts that the problem may lie with the discipline itself. “I think that academic philosophy has become an extraordinarily inward-looking subject,” she says, “If you pick up a professional journal now, you find little nitpicking responses to previous articles. Women tend to get more easily bored with this than men. Philosophy seems to stop being interesting just when it starts to be professional.”

It’s a provocative claim, one I’m sure many women in philosophy would contest, though the more general idea that academic philosophy has become an arid practice divorced from real life concerns might have wider support. The data on women in academic philosophy presents a very complex picture. “No single intervention is likely to change the climate,” as Tania Lombrozo writes at NPR. Explicit and implicit biases do play a role, as do instances of sexual harassment and coercion by those in positions of power. But another significant issue Warnock seems to ignore is the way that philosophy is generally taught at the undergraduate level.




In the research on which Lombrozo reports, studies found that “the biggest drop in the proportion of women in the philosophy pipeline seems to be from enrollment in an introductory philosophy class to becoming a philosophy major. At Georgia State, for example, women make up about 55 percent of Introduction to Philosophy students but only around 33 percent of philosophy majors.” This may have to do with the fact that “readings on the syllabus were overwhelmingly by men (over 89 percent).” As Georgia State graduate student Morgan Thompson explained at a conference in 2013:

This problem is compounded by the fact that introductory philosophy textbooks have an even worse gender balance; women account for only 6 percent of authors in a number of introductory philosophy textbooks.

Does this disparity reflect an unalterable truth about the history of philosophy? No, and it can very well be remedied. The Center for the History of Women Philosophers and Scientists is working to do that with a new site, the Encyclopedia of Concise Concepts by Women Philosophers. The joint project of Paderborn University’s Ruth Hagengruber and Cleveland State’s Mary Ellen Waithe, this resource aims to introduce “women philosophers who mostly have been omitted from the philosophical canon despite their historical and philosophical influence.” So far, reports Daily Nous, “there are around 100 entries… with more to be added every few months.”

Each entry is written by a recognized scholar. The easy-to-navigate site has four main sections: Concepts, Keywords, Philosophers, and Contributors. There are a few names most people will recognize, like Mary Wollstonecraft, Ayn Rand, and Simone de Beauvoir. But most of these thinkers will seem obscure, despite their meaningful contributions to various fields of thought. Integrating these philosophers into syllabi and textbooks could go a long way toward retaining women in philosophy departments. As importantly, it will broaden the tradition, giving all students a wider range of perspectives.

For example, much of the academic work on social ethics in democracy might reference Adam Smith’s “Theory of Moral Sentiments” or the prolific 20th century work of John Dewey. But it might overlook the work of Dewey’s contemporary Jane Addams (top), who also wrote critical studies on democracy and education and who “sees a connection,” writes Maurice Hamington in a short entry about her, “between sympathetic understanding and a robust democracy.... For Addams, it is crucial that citizens in a democracy engage with one another to reach across difference to care and find common cause."

Addams brought her philosophical concerns into real world practice. She made important interventions in the treatment of immigrants and African-Americans in Chicago, supported working mothers, and helped pass child protection laws and end child labor. But while she has long been renowned as a social reformer and Nobel Peace Prize winner, "the dynamics of canon formation," notes the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "resulted in her philosophical work being largely ignored until the 1990s." Now, many philosophers recognize that works like Democracy and Social Ethics anticipated key contemporary issues in political philosophy a century ago.

Other thinkers in the Encyclopedia of Concise Concepts by Women Philosophers like Diotima of Mantinea (whom Socrates revered) and early American thinker Mercy Otis Warren made important contributions to the theories of beauty and government, respectively. Yet they may receive no more than a footnote in most undergraduate philosophy courses. This may have less to do with explicit bias than with the way professors themselves have been educated. But the history, and current practice, of philosophy needs the inclusion of these views. Learn more about many historically overlooked women in philosophy at the Encyclopedia here.

via Daily Nous

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

100 Years of Drag Queen Fashion in 4 Minutes: An Aesthetic Journey Moving from the 1920s Through Today

Drag superstar RuPaul’s Drag Race program can be credited with bringing his subculture to a much wider audience.

For ten seasons, viewers outside the major metropolitan areas and select holiday destinations where drag has flourished have tuned in to root for their favorite competitors.

As a result, mainstream America has developed a much more nuanced appreciation for the labor and artistry behind successful drag performance and personae.




Vanity Fair’s "100 Years of Drag Queen Fashion," above, is not so much an evolutionary history of the form as a salute to some of its pioneers, practitioners, and patron saints.

Each decade opens with a Drag Race alum facing the makeup mirror in a relatively naked state.  Shangela Laquifa Wadley, Raja, and Detox all appear sans fard. Kim Chi’s heavily made up eyes are eyelash-free.

The 70’s spin on the late, great Divine is more reminiscent of cis-gender disco queen Donna Summer than the outrageous plus-sized muse director John Waters referred to as “the most beautiful woman in the world, almost.”

As portrayed in the video below, there’s a strong echo of 1930’s Pansy Performer Jean Malin in RuPaul’s glamorous presentation.

In reality, the resemblance is not quite so strong. Although Malin got dolled up in Mae West drag in 1933’s Arizona to Broadway, above, left to his own devices his stage presence was that of an openly effeminate gay man, or “pansy.” As Professor George Chauncey, director of Columbia University’s Research Initiative on the Global History of Sexualities observes in his book, Gay New York:

 His very presence on the club floor elicited the catcalls of many men in the club, but he responded to their abuse by ripping them to shreds with the drag queen's best weapon: his wit. 'He had a lisp, and an attitude, but he also had a sharp tongue,' according to one columnist. 'The wise cracks and inquiries of the men who hooted at his act found ready answer.' And if hostile spectators tried to use brute force to take him on after he had defeated them with his wit, he was prepared to humble them on those terms as well. 'He was a huge youth,' one paper reported, 'weighing 200, and a six footer. Not a few professional pugilists sighed because Jean seemed to prefer dinner rings to boxing rings.' Although Malin's act remained tame enough to safeguard its wide appeal, it nonetheless embodied the complicated relationship between pansies and 'normal' men. His behavior was consistent with their demeaning stereotype of how a pansy should behave, but he demanded their respect; he fascinated and entertained them, but he also threatened and infuriated them.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Other legendary figures honored by Vanity Fair include Francis Renault (1893-1955), Lavern Cummings (1925-1991), and Danny LaRue (1927-2009).

Also some gender bending lad by the name David Bowie, though if Vanity Fair’s skinny Divine causes a slight sense of unease, the hideous vinyl raincoat sported by its snarling, whip-wielding Bowie facsimile may send fans scuttling for torches and pitchforks.

As to the future, Joan Jetson collars and pink wedding cake wigs appear to be part of drag’s fashion forecast.

Cis-male skeletal structures may not always lend themselves to period-appropriate female silhouettes, but the towering heels on display are faithful to the art of the drag queen, above all else.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Truth Behind Jane Austen’s Fight Club: Female Prize Fights Were a Thing During the 18th Century

The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. 

The second rule of Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Fight Club! 

- Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Could it be a case of authorial oversight that all subsequent rules are exclusively concerned with such practical matters as dress and fight duration?

Given the macho reputation of both the book and the film adaptation, it seems like the third rule of Fight Club should be: you DO NOT talk about the fact that a fair number of Edwardian ladies were badass bare knuckle fighters.

Because doing so might diminish Fight Club’s street cred just a bitsy…




Filmmaker (and popular audiobook narrator) Emily Janice Card has a good deal of fun in Jane Austen's Fight Club, above, marrying Palahniuk’s tropes to the social mores of England’s Regency period.

“No corsets, no hat pins and no crying,” Tyler Durden stand-in Lizzie instructs the eager young ladies in her circle. Soon, they’re proudly sporting bruises beneath their bonnets and stray blood spots on their tea dresses.

While young women of the fictional Bennet sisters’ social class refrained from brutal fisticuffs, there’s ample evidence of female combatants from the proletarian ranks. They fought for money, and occasionally to settle a disagreement, training hard for weeks in advance.

Their bouts drew spectators to the amphitheater owned by boxing promoter James Figg, and the marvelously named Hockley in the Hole, a seedy establishment whose other attractions included bearbaiting, bullbaiting, and fighting with broadswords and cudgels.

The female fist fighters challenged each other with paid notices in local papers, like this one from “championess and ass-driver” Ann Field of Stoke Newington:

Whereas I, Ann Field, of Stoke Newington, ass-driver, well known for my abilities, in boxing in my own defense wherever it happened in my way, having been affronted by Mrs. Stokes, styled the European Championess, do fairly invite her to a trial of her best skill in Boxing for 10 pounds, fair rise and fall; and question not but to give her such proofs of my judgment that shall oblige her to acknowledge me Championess of the Stage, to the satisfaction of all my friends.

Mrs. Stokes promptly announced her readiness to come out of retirement:

I, Elizabeth Stokes, of the City of London, have not  fought in this way since I fought the famous boxing- woman of Billingsgate 29 minutes, and gained a complete victory (which is six years ago); but as the famous Stoke Newington ass-woman dares me to fight her for the 10 pounds, I do assure her I will not fail meeting her for the said sum, and doubt not that the blows which I shall present her with will be more difficult for her to digest than any she ever gave her asses.

Rather than keeping mum on Fight Club, these female pugilists shared Muhammad Ali's flare for drumming up interest with irresistibly cocky wordplay.

References to adversaries fighting in “close jacket, short petticoats, and holland drawers … with white stockings and pumps" suggest that the adversaries played to the spectators’ prurience, though not always. Unlike the 20th-century stunt of bikini clad jello wrestling, sex appeal was not obligatory.

In a chapter devoted to public entertainments, sports and amusements, Alexander Andrews, author of The Eighteenth Century or Illustrations of the Manners and Customs of Our Grandfathers, documents how the Merry Wives of Windsor, a crew comprised of “six old women belonging to Windsor town” took out an ad seeking “any six old women in the universe to outscold them.”

On June 22nd, 1768, a woman called Bruising Peg "beat her antagonist in a terrible manner" to win a new chemise, valued at half a guinea.

In 1722, Hannah Hyfield of Newgate Market, resolved to give her challenger, Elizabeth Wilkinson, “more blows than words,” promising to deliver “a good thumping.” Both parties agreed to hold a half-crown in their fists for the duration of the fight. William B. Boulton, author of 1901’s Amusements of Old London, speculates that this was a practical measure to minimize scratching and hair-pulling.

Time travel to an 18th-century female bare knuckles fight via Female Single Combat Club’s exhaustive coverageSarah Murden’s excellent analysis of John Collet’s painting, The Female Bruisers, above, or Jeremy Freeston’s short documentary available on YouTube.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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