Marshal Golden

“Respectable Violence: Boxing Regulation and Victorian Moral Reform”

Marshal Golden

Moral reform in 19th century Britain largely came about due to widespread industrialization, urbanization, and the rise of the Victorian middle class. These developments produced not only economic stratification, but also profound cultural divisions. As working class leisure became visible to the “respectable” middle classes in London and other urban centers, observers became appalled at the violence, sexuality, and depravity that characterized the pastimes of common laborers. Prostitution, gambling, drinking, street entertainment, and “blood sports” like cock-fighting and bull-baiting all became targets of “moral reform”. Bare-knuckle boxing came under particular scrutiny by Victorian moral reformers. For its working class audience, backstreet boxing offered a display of strength, resilience, and manliness. Its bourgeois critics, by contrast, were as critical of the bloodthirsty “rabble” that attended these events as of the members of the aristocratic elite who frequently joined the audience, bet on the outcome of bouts, and even sponsored elite fighters. Moral reformers came to see boxing as little short of violent street-fighting. While many studies of the legality of the boxing have been conducted, few accounts are given of the working class narrative. This study will focus on how the working class fighters and boxing fans interacted with the law under both the Broughton Rules, and the Marquis of Queensbury rules. Analysis of this class conflict will shed light on the early regulation of the modern sport of boxing. The regulation and commercial exploitation of violence says much about the nature of Victorian society and culture.

Who is your mentor for your research project?
Daniel Ritschel

How did you arrange to work with this person?
Dr. Ritschel is my academic advisor and taught several classes that I enrolled in.

How did you know this was the project you wanted to do?
I vacuously happened upon the movement for moral reform in Victorian England by searching through contemporary newspapers. Victorian journalists from the newly developed middle class began writing sensationalized and chastising articles vilifying what the well-to-do considered poor behavior. Many of these writers were more urban anthropologists than journalists, and the accounts they gave range from hilarious to shocking. Reading these primary sources made researching the topic very enjoyable, so I decided to stick with it.

How did you hear about the Undergraduate Research Award (URA) program?
Dr. Ritschel informed me of the opportunity to submit for the URA program.

How much did your mentor help you with the application?
Dr. Ritschel was extremely patient.

What has been the hardest part about your research?
The British are excellent when it comes digitizing all kinds of primary sources. In many cases, I’ve had so much material to work with that it’s been difficult to decide what to use or how to put it all together. While feast is certainly preferable to famine, I’ve learned that both can be challenging.

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?
Keep writing drafts and get as many eyes on your work as you can. If you keep repeating this process, then you’re bound to come out with something more polished each time.

What are your career goals?
I plan on attending graduate school at UMBC next year.


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