Women’s Wrestling History Month continues with: Mildred Burke,
Birthday: August 5, 1915
Trainers: Bill Wolfe
Born: Coffeyville, Kansas
Born Mildred Bliss, Burke began wrestling at the age of 20 in 1935 by wrestling men at carnivals. At the 15, she moved to Kansas City with her boyfriend, who took her to a wrestling event which sparked her interest in the sport.
While working as an office stenographer, with an outstanding body. She was hoping to become a lady wrestler. Around the area, Bill Wolfe was looking to train women to becoming wrestlers. In the beginning, Wolfe didn’t want to train her and had a male wrestler body slamming hoping to shy her away from the business however, she ended up body slamming the male wrestler, it impressed Wolfe, so he agreed to train her. Wolfe tutored her, but she took it and made him realize she was the prodigy he was waiting for. Being so close, a relationship formed and he eventually married her. Bliss changed her name to Burke and in January of 1937 Burke beat Clara Mortenson for the World Women’s Championship (long know as the only women’s wrestling title, later becoming know as the NWA World Women’s Championship).
In the 1930’s Burke often wrestled men, The total was over 200, however she only lost to 1. Despite to financial riches, their marriage had reached to dark times. While known as a father figure to the female grapplers, he and them would often sleep together. Tensions began to explode, and it eventually led to a divorce. Due to Bill Wolfe’s influence in wrestling, Burke found herself being turned down from wrestling in majority of the National Wrestling Alliance’s promotions. Burke reached out to Jack Peter to help her wrestle. The Alliance tried to help and reconcile the marriage but agreed to one of them selling the other out. Burke agreed sell out Wolfe for $50,000 but it didn’t go through. On January 26, 1953, Wolfe sold Burke out for $30,000. as a result Burke and Wolfe couldn’t sue for alimony and Wolfe was banned from dealing in the wrestling business for 5 years. That wouldn’t last but a few months when Wolfe started promoting in Ohio. They began to compete for female wrestlers, with Burke offering them 60% of the profits but lost to Wolfe who offered 75% to the wrestlers. During the marriage Burke and Wolfe had two children, Violet and Joesph. Violet, like her mother became a wrestler, but tragically died do to injuries suffered in a match.
The wrestling promotion she started after the divorce went into bankruptcy, which led James Hoff to buy it. Eight months later, Hoof hired Wolfe to be an administrator. During a little court battle, Wolfe claimed to be the booker for Burke and her 27 wrestlers, Burke denied it, and it would be dealt with the courts.. She made contact with the NWA on hopes she would be vindicated at their Chicago meeting in 1953.
Burke faced many obstacles because women were banned from the conferences in the early years of the NWA. She wasn’t allowed to voice her opinions in the conference, but Wolfe was allowed to, after this meeting, the Alliance declined to recognized women’s wrestling, Wolfe regained his stake, but the females remained loyal to Burke and refused to wrestle under Wolfe’s promotion.
In a letter to the members of the NWA, Burke informed them that she would wrestle 12 women, where Wolfe claimed only one. Wolfe used his influence to get Burke frozen out by the members of the Alliance.
Emotionally exhausted she agreed to wrestle Wolfe’s daughter-in-law June Byers and the was heat between them. Their match took place on August 20, 1954 in Atlanta, it was a grudge match that became a shoot fight. Wolfe had a crooked ref to officiate the match due to his connection with the local commissioners. Burke later said she gave up the first fall so she wouldn’t be slowed down for the second. The second fall however, never had a finish as officials called the match. Burke left thinking she won, retaining her title, but the Alliance recognized Byers as the champion.
in the 1950’s Burke started the World Women’s Wrestling Association in Los Angeles, she returned after her match with Byers recognizing herself as champion, She vacated the belt in 1956 after she retired from wrestling. In 1970, All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling revived the belt as their top prize.
After all the troubles with Wolfe and the NWA, Burke was escorted for the rest of her career as a precaution She started International Women’s Wrestlers Inc. with Bill Newman and had offices in New York City, San Francisco and Sydney, Australia. The were used as booking and training centers. Her efforts brought women’s wrestling to Japan, and they created the World Wide Women’s Wrestling Association.
In her later years Burke ran a wrestling school in Encino, California, among her students where former WWWA Monster Ripper and WWF Women’s Champion Bertha Faye. On February 18, 1989 Burke died from a storke in Northridge, California. She was Posthumously inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2002.
Championships and Accomplishments: 3XWorld Women’s Champion, NWA World Women’s Wrestling Champion, WWWA World Heavyweight Champion. Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2002, Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame Class of 1996.