Women’s wrestling has seen a revolution in the modern era, from the concept of “diva” being eliminated, to women matches even main-eventing WWE shows and even PPV’s. Today we will take a trip back to the past, during a time where women in general were looked down on, let alone women’s wrestling. We shall talk about one of the key pioneers of women’s wrestling, Mildred Burke.
Mildred Bliss, better known by the ring name Mildred Burke, was an American professional wrestler during the 40’s, when American wrestling was just starting to take off. She held the NWA World Women’s Championship for almost twenty years, making her one of the longest female champions in history. Her wrestling career started after she went to a carnival with her boyfriend at the time, falling in love with wrestling and pursuing it later on, getting her spot on the carnival, wrestling against men in inter-gender matches. She impressed one of the local promoters at the time, Billy Wolfe, after she showed her power by body slamming a man with ease.
She got her first championship in 1937, when she defeated Clara Mortenson for the Women’s World Championship. Foes like Gladys “Kill ‘Em” Gillem and WWE Hall of Famer Mae Young tried to dethrone Burke but came up short every time. By the end of the 1930’s, Burke wrestled over 200 men, but only lost to one of them, according to rumors. She married Wolfe, but their marriage wasn’t meant to last, as Wolfe would get into affairs with the other women he promoted. Marriage wasn’t the only obstacle she faced, as women were banned from yearly NWA conferences, a promotion she was part of for most of her career. This diminished the importance of women in professional wrestling. She would have to sit back in the lobby as male dignitaries would argue behind closed doors about her future, amongst which was her ex-husband. He would be a huge contribution to the NWA declining to recognize women’s wrestling after the meeting.
However, in the early 1950’s, Burke started the World Women’s Wrestling Association in Los Angeles, California, creating a key step in keeping women’s wrestling alive. She vacated her NWA title in 1956, when she retired from professional wrestling. Burke made strides to ensure that women’s wrestling would continue long after her. She helped bring it to Japan during a tour in the 1950’s and trained future grapplers throughout her career. Some of Burke’s students include WWE Hall of Famer Fabulous Moolah and former WWE Women’s Champion Bertha Faye. In 1970, her NWA title was revived by All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling (AJW) as their top prize.
Highly-regarded as one of the toughest competitors to ever step in the ring, Mildred Burke fought her way into the history book. Her efforts to spread women’s wrestling internationally reached Japan and brought about the World Wide Women’s Wrestling Association (WWWA). For this, on April 2, 2016, Burke was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as a “Legacy” member.