Mildred Burke

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Mildred Burke
Burke in 1950
Birth nameMildred Bliss
Born(1915-08-05)August 5, 1915[1]
Coffeyville, Kansas, US[1]
DiedFebruary 18, 1989(1989-02-18) (aged 73)
Los Angeles, California, US
Spouse(s)Billy Wolfe (−1952)
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s)Mildred Burke
Billed height5 ft 2 in (157 cm)[2]
Billed weight138 lb (63 kg)[2]
Trained byBilly Wolfe
Cora Livingston

Mildred Burke (August 5, 1915 – February 18, 1989) was an American professional wrestler. She is overall a three-time women's world champion under different incarnations and recognitions.

Burke's heyday lasted from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s, when she held the NWA World Women's Champion for almost twenty years. Burke started out in 1935, wrestling men at carnivals. She was managed by her second husband, promoter Billy Wolfe.[3] She is a charter member of WWE Hall of Fame's Legacy Wing, Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, Women's Wrestling Hall of Fame, and the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame.[1][4]

Early life[edit]

Born Mildred Bliss on August 5, 1915, in Coffeyville, Kansas, at age 15 she dropped out of school and began to work as a waitress on the Zuni Indian Reservation in Gallup, New Mexico.[5] She lived there for three years, before leaving for Kansas City after agreeing to marry her boyfriend. He took her to a professional wrestling event, which sparked her interest in the sport. Burke was pregnant at the time.[2] She worked as a stenographer prior to her wrestling career.[6]: 290 

Professional wrestling career[edit]

Burke in 1937

Prior to wrestling, she was an office stenographer by day, had outstanding muscle development, and was hoping to become a professional wrestler.[6]: 290  Locally, Billy Wolfe was training aspiring women professional wrestlers. At first, Wolfe did not want to train Burke and instructed a male wrestler to body slam her, so she would stop asking Wolfe to train her. Burke, however, performed a body slam on the man instead, which resulted in Wolfe agreeing to train her.[7]: 44–45  Wolfe tutored her and realized that she was the prospect for which he was waiting. The close proximity of their training resulted in a relationship and ultimately marriage. Changing her name to Mildred Burke, she defeated Clara Mortenson for the Women's World Championship in January 1937.[6] During this time, Burke was mentored by Cora Livingston.[8]

In the 1930s, Burke wrestled over 200 men, but only lost to one of them.[7]: 33 

Despite the riches that her husband earned as a promoter of women grapplers, there was a dark side to their marriage. On the road, Wolfe acted as a father figure to the women he trained and managed, but he also earned a reputation as a womanizer because he repeatedly cheated on Burke.[6]: 291 

Split from Billy Wolfe[edit]

The problems caused by Wolfe's infidelity came to a head in 1952 when Wolfe and Burke separated. Burke found herself frozen out of professional wrestling among all National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) channels.[6]: 291  Desperate, Burke decided to consult Jack Pfefer for help. The NWA attempted to reconcile the couple, but the only agreed upon solution was that one would sell out to the other. Burke volunteered to sell to Wolfe for Burke's Attractions, Inc., which went into bankruptcy and into the hands of receiver James Hoff of Columbus. Eight months later, Hoff named Wolfe as administrator and was approved by Franklin County Judge William Bryant.[6]: 291  A memorandum dated August 20, 1953, was circulated by Wolfe, in which he boldly announced that he was the booker for Burke and her stable of 27 wrestlers. The claim was disputed by Burke on August 26, 1953, stating that the issue would be settled in the courts. It was emphasized that her contract prohibited Wolfe from competing in wrestling and was in breach of the binding agreement.[6]: 291  She consulted with Leroy McGuirk and hoped that she would be vindicated by the NWA at their September 1953 meeting in Chicago.[6]: 291 

Dealings with the NWA[edit]

Burke faced many obstacles, as women were banned from yearly NWA conferences, and this diminished the importance of women in professional wrestling.[6]: 292  An example of the discrimination was evident during the dispute with Wolfe. Burke sat in the lobby of the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago as male dignitaries argued behind closed doors about her future. Wolfe's voice was the only one heard by the membership. In the end, the NWA declined to recognize women's wrestling after the meeting, Wolfe regained his stake, but many women were loyal to Burke and refused to wrestle for Wolfe.

Genuine animosity[edit]

In a letter to NWA members on November 4, 1953, Burke refuted Wolfe's claim that she would wrestle only one woman grappler.[6]: 292  She claimed that there were twelve grapplers with whom she would work. Wolfe, however, used his influence to get her frozen from NWA members, and her promising run in the Southeast with Cowboy Luttrall and Paul Jones in 1954 fizzled.[6]: 292 

Emotionally exhausted, Burke wrestled Wolfe's daughter-in-law June Byers and there was genuine heat between the two. The match took place on August 20, 1954, in Atlanta.[6]: 292  It was a grudge match that quickly became a shoot fight, due to genuine enmity between the two women.[9] Wolfe had the support of the local commission, and he positioned a referee that was friendly to his goals into the match. Burke later admitted that she had given up the legitimate first fall with the intention of competing stronger in the second.[6]: 292  The second fall never had a finish. Officials called the match, and Burke left the ring believing that her title was safe because she had not lost two falls. The result was that many in the press stated that Byers had defeated her and the importance of Burke's championship began to diminish.[6]: 292 


Burke with boxer Max Baer in the 1950s

In the early 1950s, Burke started the World Women's Wrestling Association in Los Angeles, California. She returned to her promotion after her match with Byers, still recognizing herself as the World Women's Champion even after the NWA had recognized rival June Byers as champion since then, and continued to defend it. She vacated the title in 1956, when she retired from professional wrestling. In 1970, the title was revived by All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling (AJW) as their top prize.

After the tensions with Wolfe and the NWA, Burke traveled with an escort for the rest of her career as a protective measure. She started International Women's Wrestlers Inc. with Bill Newman and the promotion had offices in New York City, San Francisco and Sydney, Australia.[6]: 293  These offices served in the dual capacity of booking offices and training centers.

Her efforts to spread women's wrestling internationally reached Japan and brought about the World Wide Women's Wrestling Association (WWWA).

Mildred Burke introduced women's wrestling to several countries, including almost every state of the United States, Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and parts of the Orient: Japan, Hong Kong, Macao, and the Philippines. All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling (AJW) bought the legal rights of the WWWA World Championship from her and later created the WWWA World Tag Team Championship, in 1971 and the All Pacific Championship, in 1977.

In 2002, she was posthumously inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame.[6]: 293 , and in 2016, Burke inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as a "Legacy" member.

On August 17, 2018, NWA's owner Billy Corgan acquired Burke's original title belt and presented it on August 28, at NWA EmPowerrr.[10] The NWA World Women's Championship is also referred to as "The Burke".[10]

Personal life and final years[edit]

In her later years, Burke ran a women's wrestling school in Encino, California.[11] Among her students were WWE Hall of Famer The Fabulous Moolah and Rhonda Sing.

Burke died from a stroke[11] on February 18, 1989, in Northridge, California,[1] and was buried at the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Championships and accomplishments[edit]

In other media[edit]

In 2009, Jeff Leen published a biography of Burke, titled "Queen of the Ring".[15] In June 2023 filming began on Queen of the Ring, a biopic of Burke, based on Leen's book. Canadian actress Emily Bett Rickards will play Burke in the film.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Mildred Burke Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum Entry". Archived from the original on February 1, 2009. Retrieved May 5, 2007.
  2. ^ a b c d Greenberg, Alan. "MILDRED BURKE... She Never Met Her Match". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 5, 2007 – via
  3. ^ "Mildred Burke Online World of Wrestling Profile". Retrieved May 5, 2007.
  4. ^ a b "Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame Inductees". Wrestling Information Archive. Archived from the original on October 11, 2007. Retrieved May 5, 2007.
  5. ^ Greenberg, Keith Elliot (2000-01-01). Pro Wrestling: From Carnivals to Cable TV. Lerner Publications. ISBN 978-0-8225-3332-0.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Hornbaker, Tim (2007). National Wrestling Alliance, The Untold Story of the Monopoly that Strangled Pro Wrestling. ECW Press. ISBN 978-1-55022-741-3.
  7. ^ a b Ellison, Lillian (2003). The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle. ReaganBooks. ISBN 978-0-06-001258-8.
  8. ^ Jennings, L. A. (2016-07-06). "Cora Livingston and the Spectacular Sport of Wrestling". Vice. Retrieved 2024-07-01.
  9. ^ Molinaro, John F. (2002). Top 100 Pro Wrestlers of All Time. Winding Stair Press. p. 177.
  10. ^ a b Barrasso, Justin (August 17, 2021). "Billy Corgan's NWA Acquires Mildred Burke's Title Belt to Celebrate Women's Wrestling Pioneer". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved October 2, 2021.
  11. ^ a b Almond, Elliott (February 14, 1989). "Mildred Burke, 73, Dies After Stroke". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 19, 2020.
  12. ^ "Women's World Lightweight Title". Retrieved November 19, 2020.
  13. ^ Johnson, Mike (March 13, 2022). "Steve Austin & More: International Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2022 Announced". Archived from the original on February 2, 2023. Retrieved May 13, 2022.
  15. ^ Gewen, Barry (July 27, 2009). "Female Star in the Make-Believe World of Wrestling". The New York Times. Retrieved July 2, 2023.
  16. ^ Ross Sapp, Sean (June 4, 2023). "Liv Morgan and Charlotte Flair cast for upcoming Mildred Burke movie". Retrieved August 2, 2023.

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