Fencing was one of the most popular sports in France in 1900. The fencing events received great coverage in the media, being covered in all the daily newspapers, the sporting newspapers – both daily and weekly – and in several journals of the time. There were events for amateurs and professionals, who were termed fencing masters in 1900, and basically made their living by teaching fencing. This professional status was known, and accepted by Pierre de Coubertin, who realized that to obtain entry from the top fencers of the era, he would have to allow professionals to compete.
In 1900, the épée was also known as the dueling sword. It was, in fact, the sword which was chosen for fighting duels, which was not uncommon at that time. (One 1900 fencer, Jean-Joseph Renaud, made his living as an arranger of duels.) The sabre was also a combative weapon, based on the cutlass.
Foil fencing, however, was considered to be a work of art, and because of this, the foil competition took place in a greatly different manner than the épée or sabre. Thus the foil event was not strictly decided, at least in the early rounds, by wins and losses. Rather, the fencers bouted while a jury of fencing masters evaluated their “skill” and “artistry” with the weapon. Those considered to be sufficiently skilled were advanced to the later rounds, and whether they won or lost was not the deciding factor. In fact, in several foil bouts, both fencers were advanced. On the other hand, there were a few bouts in which neither fencer advanced. Effectively, foil fencing in 1900 was judged subjectively, not unlike modern gymnastics or figure skating, although no numerical scores can be traced for the 1900 foil fencing.