History ETDs

Publication Date

8-17-2011

Abstract

This dissertation considers the symbolic, social, and political conflict between heavyweight prizefighters and progressive reformers from 1892 to 1910. That time frame encompasses the careers of champions 'Gentleman' Jim Corbett, Bob Fitzsimmons, Jim Jeffries, and Jack Johnson. Their fights to win or defend the heavyweight title were planned for California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Florida, and New York, among other places. By protesting them at every stop, reformers sought to prevent the permanent establishment of prizefighting as a legitimate business, even as the fame of these fighters elevated the sport to the highest level of popularity that it had enjoyed to that time. The fundamental battle of prizefight reform pitted local and state governments against each other in a contest over the regulatory control of American morality. In the process of resolving that question, states accrued more power for themselves and weakened the strength of civil authorities in villages, towns, and cities across the United States. Although reformers throughout the country categorized prizefighting as a vice and damned it with fairly uniform rhetoric, cultural insecurities and political anxieties specific to states or regions were the real motivations for enacting or enforcing prizefight legislation. Cultural, political, and economic pressures planted on state governors by people other than moral reformers proved to be much more powerful instruments of change than the vocal minority's genuine belief in progress.

Level of Degree

Doctoral

Degree Name

History

Department Name

History

First Advisor

Hutton, Paul

First Committee Member (Chair)

Ball, Durwwod

Second Committee Member

Cahill, Cathleen

Third Committee Member

Nugent, Walter

Language

English

Document Type

Dissertation

Included in

History Commons

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