Academic journal article Journalism History

Ringside, Hearthside: Sports Scribe Jane Dixon Embodies Struggle of Jazz Age Women Caught between Two Worlds

Academic journal article Journalism History

Ringside, Hearthside: Sports Scribe Jane Dixon Embodies Struggle of Jazz Age Women Caught between Two Worlds

Article excerpt

This article examines the groundbreaking contributions of Jane Dixon as a New York City sportswriter in the 1920s. She typified the way that most women entered the field: by writing about male sports from a so-called "woman's angle." Her stories were especially noteworthy for two reasons: she covered the bloody and unseemly world of boxing more prolifically than perhaps any other woman of the time, thus standing out as a pioneer among her gender; and, despite being assigned to write from a woman's angle that inevitably stressed stereotypically feminine interests, she also used her writing as a forum to support a progressive feminist agenda. Thus, she reflected the wider, conflicted mood faced by women of the era, who found themselves caught between progressive feminism and a cultural backlash that sought to reprioritize marriage and domesticity.

Reporter Jane Dixon of the New York Telegram, according to one of her peers from the 1 920s press corps, was "probably the calmest practitioner of her craft." Her fellow female journalist remembered that she could "turn out her copy with plaster falling on her head."' On September 14, 1923, however, it was not plaster that Dixon was forced to dodge but the hulking frame of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey, who came hurtling toward her ringside seat after being knocked through the ropes by Argentinean challenger Luis Firpo.2 Fortunately for her, she and her typewriter were spared injury when New York Herald Tribune writer Jack Lawrence caught the champ and, with the help of a Western Union operator, pushed him back into the ring.'

That incident, which was emblematic of the brutality that some critics said made the boxing arena an inappropriate place for women, came in the middle of a nine-year run when Dixon flouted such concerns to cover the majority of Dempsey's championship bouts. Along the way, she carved a niche as one of the most prolific female writers on the male-dominated sports pages of the 1920s.4 By covering boxing more steadily than any other woman of the era, and by using her forum to defend and encourage womanly interest in prizefighting, she pushed the boundaries of female involvement in sports journalism while contesting broader gender stereotypes that cast boxing as an unsuitable form of entertainment for women.

At the same time, however, other elements of Dixon's boxing coverage suggested that she was adhering to stereotypical notions about her gender; like female journalists who made lesser contributions to sports journalism during the 1920s, she was assigned to produce stories from a so-called woman's angle, presumably to lure female readers.1 This meant eschewing the technical details of prizefights to concentrate instead on the personalities of the boxers, the socialites who attended the bouts, and the fashions that were in vogue among the spectators. When not covering boxing, she reported on a variety of other sports and contributed to the Telegrams women's page, where she similarly see-sawed between championing women's rights and lamenting the perceived loss of domesticity and modesty as female priorities.

Because she championed women's advances while also embracing traditional female roles, Dixon is emblematic of an era when American women found themselves at a cultural crossroads. On one hand, the 1920s was marked by the continued push for gender-equity progress among women, who sought to build on decades of professional and educational advances and the recently won suffrage victory. But the 1920s also were marked by a conser- vative backlash that sought to answer feminist advances by reas- serting the value of home life, marriage, and family. She drew from both camps, challenging gender norms while falling in line with re- emerging conservative trends. A defender of the female sports fan, she also was a sometime foe of the 1920s-era flapper; an outspoken advocate for women in the workplace, she nevertheless expressed her belief that raising a family was a woman's most important duty. …

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