Two pugilists

Two boys show off their boxing stances in this vintage snapshot from the 1920s or 30s. One boy wears dungarees/overalls and an untied bowtie, while the other wears his coat and slacks. These seem to be unusual togs for a boxing match.

Boxing can be traced as a sport back to ancient times, with Greek, Roman, and even Minoan & Assyrian records showing it was a popular spectator sport. The Romans of course took it to an extreme with the boxing glove having metal studs embedded into it, fights going to the death, and all sorts of brutality. One bit of nomenclature we brought forward from Roman boxing, though, is the term “boxing ring.” Early matches were fought in a circle drawn on the ground. During the gladiator period, boxing was outlawed as being too vicious (that’s saying something!) and it wasn’t really resurrected until the 17th century.

Prior to the 1900s, boxing was part of an unsavory world of gambling and illegal fighting. Many of us have heard of Marquess of Queensbury Rules, which were established in 1867 London as a way to bring bare knuckle boxing under a little more control. It was still considered a brutal pastime and was relegated to gambling dens, eventually becoming a “scandalous” sport of violence, betting and rowdy behavior among men. Fights among the spectators were known to break out, and riots could occur. Boxing was illegal in certain parts of Britain and America. It resembled boxing as we know it today, but not in every sense. For one, not all matches were fought to a win/decision. If one fighter wasn’t knocked out, the fight could be decided by spectators, journalists, and others. It sounds like statistics for early 1900s boxing are nothing like what we imagine they should be! Boxing could also be called prizefighting at that time, because the participants were fighting for a monetary prize. We still refer to a boxing match today as a prize fight.

1900 – 1920 saw a refining of boxing with many fighters coming from the poorer cities and areas, including many Jewish and black fighters. It is interesting to consider that fighters who were considered heavyweight fighters during that era would probably fall into the lightweight and welterweight categories today. Our modern heavyweight class has heights of 6′ 4″ and weights well over 250 pounds.

But the boys pictured above were probably thinking more of fighters like Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis and Jake Lamotta (the Raging Bull). These men helped define boxing as we know it today, although still on the small side weight-wise. Without these fighters, we would probably not have seen Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson or Sugar Ray Leonard, all the way to George Foreman, Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson. The big names of boxing today owe it all to those skinny, bare knuckle brawlers who helped resurrect boxing from the back alley and bring it into the living room. While boxing is still a prize driven sport, it is well known globally for its big purses, big fighters and big crowds – both in the arena and on pay per view.

I hope you will take some time to read further into the history of boxing. I myself enjoy a good boxing match, and encourage folks to learn about the “sweet science” that is more about technical and strategic moves than it is about blood and injury.

Additional Reading

Early 1900s boxing – via

Boxing – via wikipedia

Why is boxing called the sweet science – via

Jake Lamotta, the Raging Bull – via

A list of famous boxers – via




Now that the Cubs have won the World Series, it’s time for football! This is from an era when padding and helmets were not anything like what our players wear today, and CTE was not even on the radar as a possible complication for boys in their futures. This young fellow looks ready to hit the gridiron and score! Do you think he was the QB or a lineman? Based on the photo style, I’m suggesting the 1920s or 1930s. I can’t make out the photographer’s signature in the lower right corner.

Remember me, Liile


This photo is small, only about 2×3, and thanks to having scanned it we can enlarge the digital version for study. The young woman pictured was probably named Lii’le or Liile, something like that. Liile was an Estonian Girl Scout – or as they are known outside of the US, a Girl Guide. She wears a uniform similar to the early American uniforms, with a neckerchief tied under the collar. You can just see the insignia patch over her shoulder.

On the reverse of the photo is written “Målestuseks Liile!” which translates as “Memories” or “Remember me” or the like.

The photo was dated in the European fashion “28 11 37” which to our American minds would be November 28, 1937. Further, it was imprinted “Kunst-Foto Osol, Tallinn, Mundi” meaning Kunst-Foto (loosely translated as artistic photo) in Osol, Tallinn & Mundi. Tallinn is the capitol of Estonia and Mundi is a small village also in Estonia. I can only assume that Osol is also a town or village in the country.



This undated photo shows a young Girl Scout saluting with a backward three-finger salute. She has a tie, belt, hat and a shawl or coat over one arm. You can just see over her left pocket a round Girl Scout symbol, and in the center of her tie her pin. This uniform looks similar to those worn in the 1919-1927 era, although not exactly like others I have seen from that time. I’m venturing a guess at the 30s. The back of the photo says “Sis just before she left for camp.”

De Teu Londres Amigos



This photograph of a handsome young man was taken in Islington, Newfoundland. The year is unknown but after World War I, Newfoundland had a minimal military presence, so the photo is possibly from the WWI era.

At that time, Newfoundland was still an independent country although under the British dominion, and owing allegiance to Britain. Since the military in Newfoundland had been virtually nonexistant since 1870, a recruiting effort took place, and eventually enough men were raised to create the Newfoundland Regiment.  After basic training and acclimating to military life, the Regiment was eventually sent to Suvla Bay and the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign. This Regiment escaped with relatively few casualties (40 deceased, 150 ill), and they went on to fight again at the Battle of the Somme. They were not as lucky during this battle, and on July 1, 1916 they lost approximately 90% of their number (670 of 780) were lost. The following day, only 68 men were able to make it to roll call. It was a devastating blow to the Regiment, but recruiting efforts back in Newfoundland continued and their ranks swelled again. They continued to see action, sometimes terribly, with April 23, 1917 being the last day for 435 of their numbers at the Battle of Arras. Throughout the war they deported themselves with incredible valor, earning the distinction of “Royal” being added to their name by King George V, an honor that had not been bestowed during battle for the previous 101 years.

After WWI, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment saw very little action over seas, and sent no infantry to fight during WW2. They did send two artillery units and have since maintained a presence, however limited, in world activities. After becoming a Canadian province in 1949, the Regiment has been the primary military presence in the province, and they have acted as U.N. Peace Keepers around the world. Amazingly, in August 2010, the regiment experienced their first combat loss in almost 100 years, when Corporal Brian Pinkson died of wounds sustained in Afghanistan. July 1st continues as Memorial Day in Newfoundland and Labrador in honor of those many men lost in 1916.

Monday Back

De teu Londres amigos, Dinie

The back of the photo has a handwritten note, which maybe someone else can decipher more accurately. The writing in green ink is angled across the top left corner. I can’t make the name turn into something I am familiar with (not Diane, Dane, Dario, etc.). The studio was called Watson’s. It is possible this man was not part of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, but in fact visiting Newfoundland as part of the recruiting efforts by Britain, or even later on in the 20th century. We shall never know though, since whoever he was, he didn’t sign his last name.

UPDATE; Thanks to Pierre Lagace’ at Lest We Forget, the dating of this photograph has been changed to World War II era. Pierre believes this might have been a British sailor not stationed on a ship – as his hat band would say the name. Possibly the man was stationed in Newfoundland and had his photo made while there. It makes the salutation “to your London friends” have a little more context, certainly.

Union Label

It isn’t always easy to find an old photo with a big banner in it, but when you do they are usually something good to stir up discussion. Such is my hope this week.

Union labor rally

Union labor rally

It seems like the moment you say “unions” people’s opinions are usually split between pro and anti union sentiments. But when you look at the history of unions in America, they were intended for good and needed. Working conditions in the American Industrial Age were horrible. One early union movement was to the 8 hour work day, and the shops that followed this movement created unique labels so it would be easy for the purchasing public to find and support them. Union labels are generally attributed to the 1869 movement of Carpenters Eight-Hour League in San Francisco, CA (A Brief History of Labor Symbols, Susan Parker Sherwood, San Francisco State University). The labels indicated to buyers that the Products made in that factory were produced by laborers on an eight-hour workday as opposed to those on a ten-hour day. Later in 1874, the unionized cigar makers used a white label to differentiate their products from those made by lower paid workers.

This particular image from about the 1930s shows women in a parade float, likely going to a labor rally. When I see women and “union label” I think of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and their catchy commercials from the 1980s. The union was formed in the early 1900s at a time when New York City was a major manufacturing center for clothing. The first organized action of the union came in 1909 when 20,000 workers walked out on the Triangle Shirtwaist workshop. 20% of the workforce striked, and in response Triangle locked them out. After 14 weeks, the union accepted an arbitrated agreement, but Triangle was not among the factories that signed the agreement.

Shortly after this, the union led another, larger strike in New York, leading 60,000 or so workers to step away from their sewing machines. This was called the Great Revolt and went on for months. After much arbitration, the strike was settled and workers returned to the factories.

Just two years after the initial strike against Triangle, the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire occurred, killing 146 workers. Many of them perished because Triangle locked the doors of the floors to prevent workers from leaving early. This spurred greater support of the ILGWU and the momentum spread.

By the 1980s, unions in America we’re struggling under pressures to produce cheaper garments, and also from internal corruption. The ILGWU produced a number of commercials with a very catchy song with the following lyrics:

Look for the union label
When you are buying a coat, dress, or blouse,
Remember somewhere our union’s sewing,
Our wages going to feed the kids and run the house,
We work hard, but who’s complaining?
Thanks to the ILG, we’re paying our way,
So always look for the union label,
It says we’re able to make it in the USA!


For more Sepia rallys and slogans, click through to Sepia Saturday. You will be happy you did!


Smile, baby!


Unidentified happy baby

This early 20th century image of a happy child is uplifting. It makes you want to smile along with the child. I believe this is a boy. The photo itself is scratched up a bit, but the jacket really took a beating. The corners are worn down and something spilled, leaving an oily stain on the upper right corner. Through it all, baby smiles.  The child is also not wearing anything, so falls into the “undressed” category I have noticed in 1920s/30s photos.

The photographer was Michael’s at 657 Broadway, Lorain, Ohio.

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