Burke was originally from Coffeyville, Kansas. She began wrestling professionally in 1934
in a world dominated by male athletes, but ready to break the barrier down. Burke was
hands down the woman who brought the most notability to professional women’s wrestling
during it’s earliest days. She was able to pass the torch to other women, who continued to
build it’s popularity. To Penny Banner, Lillian Ellison and Mae Young. Women who
traveled throughout the world and wrestled night after night establishing themselves as top
professional athletes in the sport.
Burke was the first woman’s champion in America and held her title for more then 15
years. She won a Midwest Wrestling Association Tournament in 1936, suspected to have
been held in Columbus, Ohio, to win the first Woman’s World Title. Another source stated
that Burke defeated Clara Mortenson to win the World Title in 1937. She began touring the
country making defenses, and then branched off into other regions of the world. On
October 4, 1948, Burke defeated June Byers in Denver to retain her title. At the Coral
Gables Coliseum in Southern Miami, Florida, Burke defeated Elvira Snodgrass in 26-
minutes on March 1, 1950. She beat Mae Weston in two-straight falls on May 1, 1950 in
Omaha. The first in 10:40 and the second in 8:53. Mildred wrestled Snodgrass for the
second time in Denver on January 22, 1951 at the Gardens. It was stated that Burke was
making $50,000 a year in 1951.
In July 1951, Burke suffered a major personal loss. Her adopted daughter, Jeanette Wolfe,
age 18, was wrestling professionally in Columbus, Ohio when she collapsed and died. In
September of that year, another major impact hit home for Mildred Burke and her family.
While driving across the Mojave Desert, Burke and her son, Bill Wolfe Jr. suffered a serious
automobile accident. She would return to active competition. She beat Terry Majors for
one-fall in 16:00 and was unable to win another before the forty-minute time limit ran out in
Denver on June 23, 1953. Burke appeared in Chicago on Saturday, July 11, 1953 at
Marigold Arena. She again won in Denver on December 8, 1953, beating Millie Stafford to
retain her title.
Burke lost her claim to the World Title in 1954 to June Byers, but remained the WWWA
Women’s World Champion, a title respected to this day. Burke ran a wrestling school in
Reseda, California into the 1980s.
She died of a stroke on February 18, 1989 in Northridge, California at the age of 73.
Other Historical Notes:
In October 1951, Sam Muchnick, in a bulletin to the National Wrestling Alliance
membership, expressed "condolences" to Burke, and "hopes that she recovers quickly from
her recent injuries."
Around 1953, Burke was booked by Leroy McGuirk of Tulsa.
August 19, 1954 Gainesville, GA (Civic Building) ...
Mildred Burke (women's world champ) d. Katherine Simpson ... Jerry Graham d. Tex Riley
Notes: Simpson subbed for Millie Stafford. This was Burke's last successful world title
defense before losing a controversial match to June Byers in Atlanta.
Japan was the new frontier for professional wrestling between 1951 and '54, and after
several very successful promotions run by Al Karasick, who was the NWA booker for the
Asian country, at least two other groups were trying to invade on their own. One of them
was lead by Mildred Burke, whose reputation in America had been severely damaged by an
in-ring double-cross in Atlanta. Burke and a "few" other women were going into Japan,
according to a Karasick letter to Sam Muchnick (11/9/54) beginning on November 17, and
Karasick felt that "these girls will hurt all we have done." Another group working to edge into
Japan was led by Ted Thye and Jim Londos.
Research by Tim Hornbaker, Becky Taylor
|Mildred Burke Wrestling History
Legends of Pro Wrestling