There have been many memorable boxing matches in North Brooklyn, but in 1891 Gussie Freeman, a girl who worked in a local rope factory fought and lost to Hattie Leslie, another female boxer. The bout was so epic that people were talking about it fifty years later.
Hattie was a woman of amazing strength. She was born to poor German parents in about 1864. Gussie never had the chance to go to school and at age twelve she started to work in a Williamsburg rope factory where she proved that she was strong enough to lift the heavy bales of twine men did. By age fourteen she could compete with the strongest men in the factory.
She first knew that she could fight when she was thirteen. A male bully in the plant used to terrorize the girls by running after them and pulling their hair. She whipped the bully by hitting him with a hard punch. She quickly became the champion of the girls in the factory and Gussie would administer a beating to boys who abused the girls there.
In 1893 Hattie Lesley, a female professional boxer, challenged any man under a hundred and thirty-five pounds or any female of whatever size to a fight with a twenty-five dollar purse to the winner.
It is not clear what happened in the fight.However the house was packed to overflowing and the first round was a furious affair with both women hitting each other with powerful blows. Gussie relied on sheer power, but Leslie was trained boxer who fought scientifically. Some accounts say that the fight was stopped in the third round and declared a draw. THree nights later they fought again and Freeman won. Leslie’s husband offered her a contract to barnstorm the country giving boxing exhibitions, fighting against men and women. She knocked out twelve men in Boston.
Sadly, because she could not read she was cheated out of her money. She returned to Brooklyn and got work on Newtown Creek where she worked as a brick handler.
Eventually she opened a bar and used her fists to settle any disputes that arose there. One boxer Walter Hannigan thought that he could take advantage of Gussie. She close the door and gave him a good beating.