Mildred Burke: Founder of the World Women's Wrestling Association - HowTheyPlay - Sports
Updated date:

Mildred Burke: Founder of the World Women's Wrestling Association

Readmikenow enjoys writing about unique and interesting people. He likes to learn about individuals who live or have lived unusual lives.

Mildred Burke

Mildred Burke

Mildred Burke is considered to have been one of the strongest female competitors to ever participate in professional wrestling. Before starting her wrestling career, she was an office stenographer. Burke began wrestling professionally in the early 1930s. She gained a lot of attention from wrestling and defeating many male wrestlers. Several men tried to pin her and could not. Women who tried to wrestle her were even less successful. Burke became the Women's World Champion soon after she began her wrestling career. It was a title she kept for nearly two decades. She was the first women's champion in the United States to hold the title for more than 15 years.

Early Years

Mildred Bliss was born on in Coffeyville, Kansas, on August 5, 1915. She was the youngest of six children. At the age of 15, she started working on the Zuni Indian reservation as a waitress. When she was 17, her boyfriend asked her to marry him, and she agreed. The first wrestling match she ever saw was in Kansas City. This is when she was able to meet the Missouri state wrestling champion named Billy Wolfe. At the time of seeing her first wrestling match, she was pregnant and had been married for three years. Wolfe would eventually become her second husband as well as wrestling coach and manager.

Mildred Burke 1930s

Mildred Burke 1930s

Wrestling Career

In 1935, when Burke was 19, she started working on the carnival circuit as a wrestler. A reward of $25 was offered to any man of similar weight to wrestle Burke and try to pin her within a 10-minute time period. There was no man who was able to earn the $25. The carnival work didn't pay much, and she got a job working in an office as a stenographer. She asked Billy Wolfe to train her. Initially, he didn't want to train Burke. He told her to wrestle a man that he instructed to body slam her; he hoped this would make her leave him alone. The man did and then Burke came back and body slammed him. Wolfe then agreed to train Burke for professional wrestling.

Billy Wolfe

Billy Wolfe

Marriage to Billy Wolfe

Burke wrestled more than 200 men during the 1930s. She won every match except for one of them. Billy Wolfe was making a significant amount of money promoting women wrestlers. When he was on the road with the women he trained and managed, Wolfe developed a reputation as a womanizer. Burke found this behavior unacceptable and in 1952, the couple divorced. This resulted in Burke being ostracized from many channels of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA).

Mildred Burke during wrestling match

Mildred Burke during wrestling match

NWA Problems

The future of women's wrestling was discussed by the NWA in Chicago at the Blackstone Hotel in 1953. During this meeting, Burke was forced to stay in the hotel's lobby. Only the male members of the NWA were permitted to attend this meeting. Burke's ex-husband Wolfe was able to freely speak to the members of the NWA. After this meeting, the NWA refused to recognize women's wrestling. Women were banned from the annual NWA conferences. This decreased the value of women in the world of professional wrestling.

Mildred Burke during wrestling match

Mildred Burke during wrestling match

Career Achievements

In 1936, Burke won the Midwest Wrestling Association Tournament. This gave her the first Woman's World Title. She successfully defended the World Title in 1937 by defeating female wrestler Clara Mortenson. Burke then traveled around the United States and the world defending her title. In 1948, she wrestled and defeated well-known female wrestler June Byers. She defeated Elvira Snodgrass in 1950 at the Coral Gables Coliseum in Southern Miami. During the same year, she defeated Mae Weston. Burke once again wrestled Snodgrass in 1951. She won the match and again kept her title.

Poster for Mildred Burke wrestling match

Poster for Mildred Burke wrestling match

Promoting Women's Wrestling

During the early 1950s, Mildred Burke was in Los Angeles and created the World Women's Wrestling Association. During this time, she was considered to be a woman with a perfect physique. The Los Angeles Police Department would post pictures of Burke around the police station. The goal was to inspire police officers who were out-of-shape to start working out in the gym. The NWA eventually started promoting women's wrestling and claimed June Byers was their champion. Burke also maintained her title. She worked with Bill Newman to create the International Women's Wrestlers Inc. The organization had offices in Sydney, Australia, New York City, and San Francisco. Burke also promoted women's wrestling on an international basis. She created the World Wide Women's Wrestling Association (WWWA). After retiring, Burke lived in California and operated a women's wrestling school.

Newspaper article about Mildred Burke wrestling match

Newspaper article about Mildred Burke wrestling match

Injuries

During her wrestling career, Burke experienced many types of injuries. She had five knee injuries as well as a broken nose. Her thumbs had been pushed back to her wrist after being torn from the joint. Once Burke was on her back and an opponent stomped on her face. This caused severe damage to her teeth. After winning one intense match, Burke also suffered temporary blindness.

Signature Move

Burke had a signature wrestling move she called the alligator clutch. Burke credited this move for her success with wrestling. It is the one move she used to end the majority of her matches. It was a wrestling move that required speed and just the right timing. She would maneuver her opponent to be bent in an odd shape and then Burke quickly used her weight to pin them down.

Career Achievements

  • Three-time Women's World Champion
  • WWWA World Heavyweight Champion
  • NWA World Women's Champion
  • Member of Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame
  • Member of WWE Hall of Fame
  • Member of Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame
Movie poster for Below the Belt

Movie poster for Below the Belt

Movies

Mildred Burke was able to play herself in the movie Below the Belt, which was released on November 26, 1981. Robert Alrich produced a movie called All The Marbles. It was released on October 16, 1981. Burke was able to serve as a wrestling advisor on Alrich's movie. Each of these films was critically acclaimed and focused on professional women's wrestling.

Poster for The Queen of the Ring Book

Poster for The Queen of the Ring Book

Books

There were books written about Mildred Burke. The Queen of the Ring: Sex, Muscles, Diamonds, and the Making of an American Legend was written by Jef Leen. It was released on September 1, 2018. Pro Wrestling: The Fabulous, The Famous, The Feared and The Forgotten: Mildred Burke was written by Robert Murillo. It was released on December 2, 2015. Mildred Burke: Champion Girl Wrestler was written by Robert Grey Reynolds Jr. It was released on May 27, 2015.

Death

Mildred Burke suffered a stroke on February 14, 1989. She died on Saturday, February 18, 1989, at Northridge Hospital. Burke was 73 years old. She is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in the Hollywood Hills.

© 2019 Readmikenow

Comments

Readmikenow (author) on July 09, 2020:

Thanks for your comment. You can put Mildred Burke's name on Google and I think there are some matches available to watch. I don't know about family.

Dave on July 08, 2020:

Great wrestler,are there any other videos of her matches besides the one with Mae Weston. Also to bad that she was treated so bad by Billy Wolfe,does she have any family left?Thank You

Readmikenow (author) on July 20, 2019:

Angel, thanks. I believe there is some old black and white footage available on the internet.

Angel Guzman from Joliet, Illinois on July 19, 2019:

Oh wow I went to school by the Blackstone Hotel. It truely is amazing how long the NWA was around. I wouldn't mind watching one of her matches if footage available. Good read

Readmikenow (author) on June 11, 2019:

Dora, thanks. She was succeeding in a time when there were so many roadblocks in front of women to succeed at anything.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 10, 2019:

Never heard of this phenomenal woman. She is a model of self-worth and determination. Kudos to you for bringing her into our view.

Readmikenow (author) on June 09, 2019:

Pamela, thanks. I agree. She was an incredible woman.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 09, 2019:

I knew nothing about women's wrestling, but this is a very interesting article. I can't imagine wrestling with all those injuries, but she was the champion every time but once. I wonder if she was an adrenalin junky? She sure was determined.

Related Stories

tna-knockouts-2

The TNA Knockouts: The Women of Impact Wrestling

The TNA Knockouts. Women from the ever-changing roster of TNA, also known as Impact Wrestling.

7-real-moments-in-the-fake-world-of-pro-wrestling

7 Real Moments in the Fake World of Pro Wrestling

In the fake world of wrestling, things don't always go according to plan. A lot of the unplanned incidents go unnoticed by the fans. However, some of the incidents are so big they cannot be ignored.

five-greatest-heels-in-professional-wrestling

Five Greatest Heels in Professional Wrestling

We love to hate them, but heels are a necessity in professional wrestling. Storytelling requires a good villain, someone for the hero to eventually overcome. This list looks at five great wrestlers that audiences love to hate.

the-top-5-eras-in-professional-wrestling

Top 5 Eras of Professional Wrestling

A top 5 list of the best eras in professional wrestling history. Supporting evidence is given for each pick.

will-all-elite-wrestling-make-a-better-wwe

Will All Elite Wrestling Make WWE a Better Product?

A lot of pundits seem to think that the rise of the new professional wrestling promotion All Elite Wrestling will result in a better WWE product because of competition, but is that really true?

5-of-the-biggest-home-grown-stars-of-world-championship-wrestling-wcw

5 of the Biggest Home Grown Stars of World Championship Wrestling (WCW)

WCW was at one point the number one promotion in the world. It did so by signing a huge chunk of the WWF roster. It sadly neglected to develop their own stars. However, a few still stood out.

clean-finishes-in-wrestling

Are There Too Many Clean Finishes in Wrestling?

Is modern wrestling suffering from too many clean finishes? This question may sound crazy at first sight, but let’s at least consider it.

5-facts-about-charolotte-flair

5 Facts About WWE Superstar Charlotte Flair

The Queen has shown that she is possibly the greatest female performer to grace the WWE ring with her amazing in-ring skills and commanding presence.

kayfabe

Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels: The Rivalry That Shaped Pro Wrestling

The onscreen and real-life feud between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels helped shape pro wrestling as we know it. Read about what made this one of the biggest wrestling rivalries of all time and it's impact on sports entertainment.

natalie-du-toit-first-disabled-athlete-who-qualified-to-compete-against-able-bodied-athletes

Natalie du Toit: First Disabled Athlete to Swim in the Olympics

Natalie du Toit lost her leg in an accident at 17. After qualifying for the Bejing Games, she became the first amputee to swim in the Olympics in 2008.

5-of-the-biggest-stars-in-the-early-days-of-all-elite-wrestling-aew

5 of the Biggest Stars in the Early Days of All Elite Wrestling (AEW)

AEW is a young promotion which started on January 1, 2019. Despite it being so new, it has repeatedly trounced its rival NXT. NXT is owned by World Wrestling Entertainment. AEW has already acquired a lot of talent. Here are 5 of their biggest stars.

favorite-pro-wresting-stars-of-the-1950s-exciting-wrestlers-who-were-champs

My Favorite Pro Wrestling Champs in the 50s

During the 1950s, pro wrestling was one of my favorite sports. You couldn't keep me away from the TV or a live bout if I could see my favorite grapplers. Here are my four favorite pro wrestling champs from that era.

10-professional-wrestlers-who-almost-reached-the-top-of-the-wwe

10 Professional Wrestlers Who Almost Reached the Top of WWE

An article looking at 10 professional wrestlers who almost found success at the top of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

chuck-wepner-the-man-who-inspired-the-movie-rocky

Chuck Wepner: The Man Who Inspired the Movie “Rocky”

Chuck Wepner was a professional boxer from Bayonne, New Jersey. His fight against Muhammad Ali in 1975 inspired Sylvester Stallone to make the movie “Rocky.”

a-fathers-dedication-the-racing-world-of-dick-and-rick-hoyt

A Father’s Special Dedication: The Racing World of Dick and Rick Hoyt

Despite his son having a severe case of cerebral palsy, Dick Hoyt participated in marathon races as well as Ironman Triathlons and more with his son Rick. Their special relationship has inspired millions of people.