On this day in Black history, Jackie Tonawanda successfully sued the New York State Athletic Commission for a boxing license. Tonawanda was born as Jackie Garrett on September 4, 1933 in Suffolk County, New York. There was some conflict about her birth year since she gave her age as 28 in a 1976 interview. She trained for the squared circle in the early 1970s but was barred from fighting in New York.
Her 1975 lawsuit against the Commissioner Edwin Dooley would open the doors for women to box professionally. Tonawanda was also a master of self-promotion and was at home in front of a microphone.
Prior to this lawsuit, she became the first woman to compete at Madison Square Garden, knocking out kick boxer Larry Rodania at Aaron Bank’s Oriental World of Self Defense showcase in June 1975. The fight went two rounds. In 1984, she had another intergender fight–this time at the Nassau Coliseum–that she won by TKO. Jackie Tonawanda was inducted into the Veterans Boxing Association and Madison Square Garden hall of fame.
In her career, she claims to have fought in over 30 fights. Fellow pioneer Marian Trimiar has been suspicious of her record for years. Jackie Tonawanda–also known as Lady Ali–was said to have been a powerful striker. Unfortunately, her record isn’t documented mainly because most of her fights being amateur bouts or exhibitions instead of competitive ranked bouts–or as she called them “unsanctioned underground fights.” Her professional record is 0-1-0.
On June 9, 2009, Tonawanda died as a result of colon cancer.