The earliest documented professional women’s boxing match in America was in 1876 between Nell Sanders and Rose Harland. The “National Police Gazette”, a historic men’s magazine, published an exaggerated illustration of Sanders powdering her nose after knocking out Harland but the fight had actually been decided by points, not knock out. Both women had been professionally trained by male boxers. They stepped in the ring in borrowed boxing trunks and slugged it out for several hard-hitting rounds. It could have been a draw but the judge ultimately gave Harland the win by a point. She won $200 and a silver butter dish. Harland was given a consolation prize of $10 collected from the audience.
There were other women fighters in the late 1880s such as American boxers Hattie Stewart, Hattie Leslie, Alice Leary, and Gussie “Loony” Freeman. Polly Fairclough was a boxer and Greco-Roman wrestler in Britain who fought men in the ring including an exhibition bout in Dublin against Jack Johnson.
There was a women's boxing display at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis which was strictly for exhibition and not for medals. Boxing would become a popular exercise for women in the 1920s and move into actual official events in the 40s and 50s. Belle Martel was a boxing announcer, trainer, time keeper and first woman to become an officially licensed boxing referee in 1940. Women’s boxing continued in popularity and would eventually become an official Olympic sport in 2012.