The History Behind the Harvard Boxing Team

FightCamp - History of the Harvard Boxing Team

Harvard is known for Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, Nobel Laureates, and presidents. Find out how this prestigious school was once known for its boxing team.

Published: January 26, 2023

Topics: Culture, Fight News

Author: Tommy Duquette

What do Teddy Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and American novelist Norman Mailer have in common? Better yet, how did an Ivy League school more commonly known for Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, Nobel laureates, award-winning scientists, and presidents start one of the most historically significant boxing programs in this country’s history?

Former U.S. national boxing team member and FightCamp co-founder Tommy Duquette is shedding some light on a time when one of the most prestigious educational institutions recognized the importance of martial arts.

School of Badassery

The Harvard Boxing program dates to 1874 when future president Teddy Roosevelt was a student. Roosevelt is one of the first high-profile members of the Harvard Boxing Club. Other prestigious names who were in the ring after class include President JFK and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Norman Miller.

Not many people realize how badass these guys really were. Before JFK was President, he was a World War II hero. Teddy Roosevelt was the leader of the Rough Riders, the most famous American regiment in the Spanish-American War of 1898. He survived the infamous San Juan Hill death trap by leading 500 men headfirst into a charge that ultimately won the battle.

In another demonstration of pure grit, Roosevelt finished a campaign speech with a bullet wound after being shot. Roosevelt also famously had a boxing ring in the White House where he would spar regularly. During one heated bout, he got hit in the eye and tore his retina, eventually losing vision in that eye.

Battle of the Ivy Leagues

Fast forward to 1937, and college boxing had become a big deal at Harvard. Boxing was at the same level as all the major collegiate sports. The typical opponents were Harvard rivals at the time including MIT, Yale, and Dartmouth.

It was around this time that both JFK and Norman Mailer were attending Harvard and were part of the boxing program. Many view this time as something of a Golden Era for the Harvard Boxing Team.

In 1941, a year after JFK graduated, the U.S. entered World War II. At that time, Harvard made it mandatory for all undergraduates to participate in intercollegiate boxing training as a way of improving their wartime fitness.

To bolster the program, Harvard brought in the legendary boxing champion Tommy Rawson. He led the program well into his 90s. In the 1940s and ‘50s, many of these collegiate matches would draw crowds of 10,000 people. In college sports popularity, this made boxing second only to football at that time.

All Good Things

In 1960, following the death of a university student from injuries received in the ring, the NCAA made the decision to do away with boxing. This is even though football has seen similar tragedies over the years – and is scientifically proven to be more dangerous than boxing.

After the ban and up to today, the Harvard Boxing Club still exists as an unofficial sports club. It still functions, but its popularity pales in comparison to other college sports.

Tommy's opinion, not preparing young men and women for life by introducing them to martial arts is far more dangerous. What could we be if we readily embraced what Teddy Roosevelt called ‘the strenuous life’? It’s that brand of rugged individualism that the World War II generation was known for and that has been the driving force behind every great boxing champion that has ever lived.

Every great boxing champion was propelled forward by their ability to fight through adversity, to sacrifice, to work hard, and their ability to excel from within.

Importance of Youth Boxing

At FightCamp, it’s our mission to inspire the fighter within. We believe that the fighting spirit, when harnessed properly, is an innate human characteristic that can help individuals grow, overcome, and excel in life. We help you exercise that primal side. In fact, we even have several young people who have started doing FightCamp workouts with their parents. Many have gone on to compete and win amateur boxing matches. 

Train Like a Fighter

Take your workouts to the next level and train like a fighter with the at-home connected fitness solution used by world champion boxers Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather. FightCamp has everything you need to work out on your schedule, with premium boxing equipment and hundreds of on-demand strength, conditioning, kickboxing, boxing, core, and recovery classes led by real fighters. 

As Mike Tyson said - “FightCamp is the next level of training!”

Tommy Duquette

Tommy Duquette is a Co-Founder and Head of Content at FightCamp. He is a former US Boxing Team member with 136 fights under his belt & qualified #2 seed for the 2012 Olympic trials. Tommy is USA Boxing Coach certified.

Next Article