I like doing genealogy research because of the fun things that I find out about my ancestors.
Last week I discovered that my Great Aunt (Polly Burns) was a world champion pugilist, the top female boxer in the world in 1900!
Polly Burns was not your typical demure Victorian lady. Uncle Tommy was quite wealthy from his work as a fight promoter and they lived in a mansion on Merrion Strand Road in Dublin. Aunt Polly loved her pets and they had an aviary with over 100 chirping birds.
Aunt Polly died before I was born, but I was told that she was cultured and cordial, well-mannered and gracious, with a great sense of humor. But Aunt Polly was no pushover.
Polly Burns was lightening fast, and she could take-on any professional boxer. She once fought an exhibition match in Dublin with the heavyweight champion of the world (Jack Johnson)!
The Burns women were also notorious bikers!
Polly Burns was the subject of a documentary film titled “My Grandmother Was A Boxer”, part of the “true Lives” television show on Ireland’s RTE network.
It’s said that my Uncle Tommy met her in the boxing ring! Polly fought men at the National Sporting Club in London, where Uncle Tommy liked to hang out. Polly challenged him to a match, and after she nailed him with a wicked left hook, it was true love, and they were married shortly thereafter. Uncle Tommy was a dapper man-about-town, well-educated, rich and good-looking:
My Great Uncle – The dapper Tommy Burns
Her favorite advice was to “never to clinch an argument with a straight left.” This is the only photo I found of Polly, surrounded by her male opponents:
Polly Fairclough Burns
World Champion Boxer, 1900
Here is an old newspaper clipping on Polly Burns that I found in an old trunk, documenting her years as a prizefighter:
See my notes on Polly Burns, world champion lady boxer.