A League of Her Own

by Erin Feith, Research Assistant
May 2, 2023

Madame Bey (far left) photographed with President McKinley (center) during his ill-fated trip to the Pan-American Exposition, September 5, 1901

In the 1920s, a new figure emerged in the boxing industry who never fought yet packed a punch not soon forgotten, Madame Hranoush Sidky Bey, or Madame Bey. A native of Turkey, she arrived in Washington, DC with her husband, Turkish diplomat Sidky Bey, in 1897, quickly making her mark as a multi-linguist, trained mezzo-soprano, and friend of President and Mrs. McKinley. Relocating to Chatham Township, NJ after her husband’s resignation, Madame Bey operated a boxing training camp that gained international acclaim and shaped the careers of some of the most famous boxers of all time.

The Indianapolis Times, July 20, 1926

Purchasing a 30-acre property on River Road, the Beys became neighbors with Freddie Welsh, the world lightweight champion (1914-17). Welsh had opened a health farm for wealthy businessmen, but it struggled to attract many guests, prompting him to return to the army and hire Madame Bey as the estate’s manager in 1923. Though boxers who knew of Welsh had previously visited the farm to train, it was never exclusively operated as a camp. Recognizing an opportunity, Madame Bey formed personal connections with the prizefighters she welcomed as they sought to prepare away from distractions. When professional differences led to a parting of ways with Welsh, they encouraged her to open her own training camp and followed her next door.

Aided by the boxers, their managers and trainers, the property was transformed into Bey’s Training Camp, replete with a gymnasium, dormitories, and an outdoor ring. As she had before, Madame Bey not only provided discipline through her rules, which enforced a curfew and prohibited drinking, but also companionship. Bey fostered a familial environment where boxers came together to play cards or listen to the radio and she became a maternal figure who offered guidance outside of the ring. Success bred further success and many would-be champions flocked to Madame Bey’s camp. Indeed, journalists, celebrities and townspeople alike often crowded to watch practices, hoping to catch a glimpse of current title holders, just as much as they were of the woman behind the site’s namesake.

Gene Tunney was the American lightweight champion (1922-23) and the world heavyweight champion (1926-28). He first came to Madame Bey’s to train in 1926 and formed a friendship with her. She was known to have called Tunney “my polished emerald.”
Evening Star, May 23, 1944

Madame Bey remained at the helm of her training camp until her death in 1942. Under her direction, Bey’s became a globally recognized facility that counted dozens of champions and future inductees into the International Boxing Hall of Fame among its attendees. The camp retained its status until its closure in 1969 when hotels enticed boxers away from standalone enterprises. Contributing to the sport and the careers of its top names, Madame Bey’s boxing training camp proved to be a knockout success.