Saturday, September 12, 2009

Social History Saturday: Mildred Burke, Woman Wrestler

Yes, you just read right. I am writing about a woman wrestler. A strange idea for a genealogist? Maybe, but this book is a great example of how you can flesh out the story of an ancestor.

I just finished reading a book that chronicles the life of the champion woman wrestler Mildred Burke. Titled, The Queen of the Ring: Sex, Muscles, Diamonds and the Making of an American Legend by investigative reporter Jeff Leen. You can see a limited preview of this book on Google Books. It is also available for sale at Amazon as well as a download for your Amazon Kindle.

This book is a very interesting look at a world that I would think most of us have never thought of before. At the height of her career, Mildred Burke, a woman wrestler from the 1930’s was making more money than Joe DiMaggio. But you probably haven’t heard of Mildred.

Mildred was the pioneer of women’s wrestling. She began when it was basically unheard of for women to wrestle (1930’s). Her experience as a woman in a totally male dominated field provides a glimpse into how all women were treated during this era.

Once Mildred entered the field and brought with her the notion that women could compete, in some states it was illegal for women to compete in a sport in front of an audience, it opened the field up to other women who may have had few options for employment. What was interesting to me was that many of the women who decided to give wrestling a try were young (16-20 years old) and some were single mothers who were deperate to provide for their children.

As you can tell by the title of the book, the book has it's share of tales of physical abuse, and sexual coercion by men and especially the women’s wresting manager, who was also at one time Mildred's husband. It really points to the lack of power the women had over their own lives, even though they were very powerful, physically. One example is the danger that was to be had for the women driving alone to wrestling matches due to men along the highway trying to rob them and assault them.

I was interested in the research the author did in order to write this book. One of the places he talks about consulting was eBay, because there he could buy old wrestling magazines that featured articles on Mildred and the other women wrestlers. He also interviewed her son, and other wrestlers who knew her. And of course he consulted collections at libraries and archives. He employed many of the research techniques that we as genealogists would use to better understand the lives of our ancestors.

To see pictures of Mildred, consult Google Images and type her name in the search box. You can see a video, albeit a very fuzzy image, of Mildred wrestling on YouTube at Her obituary can be found at

1 comment:

Thomas MacEntee said...

I do know about Mildred Burke - I just finished watching a great documentary on women'a wrestling called Lipstick and Dynamite (