Mildred Burke: Women's Wrestling Pioneer
Mildred Bliss was a professional woman wrestler and wrestled under the name of Mildred Burke.
At the young age of fifteen, Mildred found work on a Native American reservation, where she lived with her mother in Gallup, New Mexico as a waitress. Her mother was a cook in the restaurant and helped her get the job. When she was about eighteen, she moved to Kansas City and married her boyfriend. It was that boyfriend that piqued her interest in professional wrestling. He took her to a live card and she was a fan after that. She wanted to become a wrestler but two things slightly stopped her. One she was pregnant and the other was that women’s wrestling was virtually unheard of and then only in a vaudeville venue.
In 1935, at age 19, she began her career by wrestling men in carnivals and offered them 10 dollars to anyone who could pin her in ten minutes or less. None succeeded.
Eventually, she divorced her husband and hooked up with a man named Billy Wolfe. He was the Missouri State wrestling champion at the time. He became her promoter and then her second husband. At 5’2” tall and weighing around 115 pounds soaking wet, she wasn’t the biggest person but she was certainly one of the toughest. She soon became a main event level draw at carnivals and men were afraid to wrestle her. So, she demonstrated feats of strength by blowing up and bursting tire inner tubes. Her chest expanded to 51/2 inches and was bigger than boxing champ Jack Dempsey’s chest.
In 1937, she won the Women’s Wrestling Championship from a lady named Clara Mortenson and held it until 1954 when she finally lost the title to June Byers. For seventeen years, Mildred Burke was undefeated. The only other woman to accomplish this was a lady named the Fabulous Moolah. Moolah wrestled for the WWWF, which is today known as the WWE and she held the Women’s Title in that organization for twenty-seven years.
Mildred Burke’s match against June Byers became a grudge match because they didn’t like each other. Shortly after her loss, Burke started the Women’s World Wrestling Association and declared herself the first Women’s champion in that organization. She vacated the title in 1956 when she retired from active competition. The title remained inactive until 1970 when it was revived by All Japan’s Women Pro-Wrestling and the title was won by Marie Vagnone and was presented the title by Mildred Burke. The title remained active until 2006.
When she was older and after she had retired from active competition, Burke started a wrestling school in Encino, California and one of her students included a Canadian Woman Wrestler named Rhonda Singh, who eventually became the WWWA Women’s champion. Singh also wrestled in Japan after being trained by Burke under the name of Monster Ripper and later found fame in the WWF as Bertha Faye. She defeated Alundra Blaze in August of 1995 to capture the title, only to lose it back to Blaze two months later.
That was the only time that Faye held the WWF Women’s Championship.
In her heyday as a wrestler, she was so tough and so popular that the Los Angeles police department put a poster of her up on the walls so the policemen who were out of shape would be embarrassed by this and get back into shape.
Mildred Burke was truly a pioneer for women in professional wrestling right up until her death from a stroke in 1989. She was 73 years old.
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