Famous People in Hull: Barbara Buttrick!

Hey guys! So, for this week’s post, I’ll be celebrating the career of Hull born boxer and wrestler Barbara Buttrick. It’s been a while since I’ve written a post like this so I felt it was definitely time to compose another installment of my famous people in Hull series. Barbara’s story is pretty incredible; the 4ft 11inch boxer ,also known as ‘The Mighty Atom’, went from typist in Yorkshire to world famous champion. But behind every successful, inspiring women is the story of the journey they took to achieve their ultimate purpose or goal. Barbara found it hard to box with success in a time when women were perceived to be delicate and demure and she encountered her fair share of sexist people. However, with hard work and perseverance, she triumphed in the end and became a world champion. I regrettably only came to know about Barbara after the ‘Delicate Flowers’ performance that I watched in half term which focused on her inspiring story. But now, she is up there alongside Hull born aviator Amy Johnson as being one of the most iconic and inspiring women in my opinion. So in today’s post, I will outline the events of Barbara’s career and how she eventually achieved her purpose.

Barbara started off in the 1940s trying to get together a soccer team but there weren’t many girls who would play soccer back then. One day, Barbara happened to read an article about a women, Polly Burns, who travelled around boxing booths so she cut out the article, vowing to try it herself. Her parents in Cottingham, which is a large village on the outskirts of Hull, acquiesced to her taking up boxing so she started working at fairgrounds in a brightly coloured booth where she would challenge women to fight her. These had been popular attractions for a long time and they had helped many people’s careers in boxing.

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After devoting time to improving her skills, she travelled to London to find a trainer as well as female sparring partners. At Mickey Wood’s gym, she discovered Leonard Smith who was to first be her trainer before later becoming her husband. She had become a minor celebrity and in a 1950s interview she stated that ‘Girls aren’t the delicate flowers they used to be.’ However, her growth as a boxer was stunted by the lack of opportunities for female boxers in the 1950s in England as boxing was predominantly seen as a male sport. It was even harder to get into the gyms as lots of people had sexist attitudes towards women having a passion for boxing. Barbara figured that same as any boy, she should be allowed to box or do whatever she wanted. Boxing for women was actually seen on a par with getting drunk, gambling and even prostitution. Boxing embodied the idea of being strong and courageous which were typically seen as being more masculine traits. For Barbara to box, it was threatening because it was associated with all the things that men needed to be considered the “perfect” man. Barbara was rebelling against the role that her gender assigned her with and continued to pursue boxing because she was interested in it and she enjoyed it.

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Attitudes were more open minded in the USA though. Buttrick and Smith decided that since all you could do in England was box in the booths, moving there was a strategic and wise decision. Barbara travelled all around the US and while in Miami, she trained at the 5th Street Gym and met boxing legends Muhammad Ali and his trainer Angelo Dundee. Buttrick fought in more than 1,000 exhibition matches in the USA, winning 30 professional fights, drawing in just one and losing just one to Joann Hagen as she was outweighed by 33 pounds and stricken with the flu. She fought Phyllis Kugler in 1957 and won the Women’s World Boxing Champion title. After retiring in 1960, she stayed in the sport, founding and becoming president of the Women’s International Boxing Federation in the mid 1990s. She recently became the first women to be admitted into the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame. When women’s boxing was eventually included within the Olympics back in 2012 in London, Buttrick attended to watch Nicola Adams win the flyweight gold for Team GB.

Barbara Buttrick is an inspiration for pursuing her passion for boxing despite grappling with the sexist attitudes of the time and the stereotype that boxing was only for men. She paved the way for other great female boxers by working hard at her craft, trying hard to be taken seriously and smashing through the idea that women were too delicate to box. I’m so proud that she’s from Hull originally and I’m so thankful to her for the example she has set for me that I should work hard despite opposition.

Thank you for reading this post! Who inspires you? Let me know in the comments! There’ll be another post out soon but until then bye for now!

Amelia Grace a.k.a Amelia in Hull


  1. I love this blog series and how highlights women I would not have normally known about. I think Barbara’s story is inspiring and I admire how strong she was to stand out from the crowd when everyone else was pushing her to blend in. I remember Nicola being in the Olympics in 2012 but never really considered how momentous that was until now. Thank you for sharing! (PS. Loving the profile picture). xx

    Liked by 1 person

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