Women's pro wrestling has come a long way since it's inception.
Today we have the WWE Divas and the TNA Knockouts, who are a far cry from the ladies that pioneered the sport.
Probably the closest we have today to those ladies are the women of the Independent wrestling promotions.
Back in "The Old Days" the women started out as strongwomen taking on all comers (usually men) in carnival sideshows.
But eventually they progressed and began wrestling in the same higher paid venues that the men wrestled in.
These ladies were tough, skilled and sometimes pretty darn mean.
Back then a "Shoot Match", a match with no script, happened now and then.
And sometimes a scripted match would turn into a shoot when one lady would go off script and start using "stiff" tactics like real punches, kicks and stomps.
Makes you wonder how long today's models turned wrestlers would last in a match with some of these wildcats.
Not long I'll wager.
So here are some of the beautiful and tough ladies that blazed the trail for today's women of wresting.
One of the classic female pro wrestlers that looked more like a movie star than a wrestler, June Byers' real name was DeAlva Eyvonnie Sibly-Snyder
She was born on May 25th, 1922 in Houston, Texas.
June was trained by Billy Wolfe (who trained almost everyone back then) and made her pro wrestling debut in 1944.
She feuded with other wrestlers like Joyce Ford, Mars Bennett, Princess Tonah Tomah and Mildred Burke.
Wrestling Debut: 1944
During her career, she held the NWA Woman's title and the Missouri Woman's Tag Team title twice.
On August 20th, l954 June defeated Mildred Burke in a one hour, three fall match in Atlanta, Georgia.
Yes...a one hour match.
After a car accident in 1964, June retired as the NWA Women's Champion.
She passed away on July 20, 1998.
June Byers vs. Penny Banner
Female pro wrestler Elsie Schevchenko was better known as Ella Waldek
Ella was born in Custard, Washington in 1930 or 1929...accounts vary.
She grew up as a "farm girl", then started out in roller derby and went to pro wrestling in 1952.
Although she had limited wrestling knowledge, her size and strength served her well.
Ella had a tragic moment in her career though.
In a tag team match (with Mae Young as her partner), a young rising star, Janet Boyer Wolfe was injured and later died after a kick she had received from Ella in the match.
Ella, Mae Young and Janet's partner Eva Lee were all three arrested by the police, and were almost charged with manslaughter, but they changed their minds and the wrestlers were released.
She left wrestling in 1971 and became a PI
During her career, Ella held the NWA Florida Women's Championship, the NWA Southern Women's Championship twice and the NWA Women's World Tag Team Championship once with Mae Young.
Penny Banner was born Mary Ann Kostecki on August 11th, 1934 in St. Louis, Missouri.
She stood five foot eight and weighed 165 pounds and was by all accounts a natural athlete.
Penny made her pro wrestling debut in July of 1954.
She dated Elvis Presley between 1956 and late 1958 and he would often come to her matches.
Elvis was known to be a big female wrestling fan.
Later, Penny married wrestler Johnny Weaver and they were together for 35 years until their divorce in 1994.
After several health crises, Penny died in her sleep at the home of her daughter in Charlotte, North Carolina on May 12th, 2008.
She wrote a book, Banner Days, about her life and was in the 2005 documentary film Lipstick & Dynamite.
Before the late Mae Young became a running gag in the WWF/WWE, she was one of the pioneers of women's wrestling.
She was born Johnnie Mae Young on March 12th, 1923 in Sand Springs, Oklahoma.
Mae was actually an amateur wrestler on her high school's boys' wrestling team, which was unusual for that time.
She got her start in pro wrestling by openly challenging them World Champion Mildred Burke at a wrestling show.
The promoters laughed and told the teenager that she couldn't challenge the Champ.
But another pro wrestler, Gladys Gillem, offered to take her on, and Mae turned the match into a Shoot, beating Gladys in seconds.
And her career was born.
When did Mae actually make her debut?
Mae herself claimed it was in 1939 at the age of 16.
Her last match was 2010...so that means she wrestled for over 70 years.
She passed away at the age on 90 on January 9, 2014.
The Fabulous Moolah
Of course the most famous wrestler from the classic days of female wrestling is The Fabulous Moolah.
The Fabulous Moolah was born Mary Lillian Ellison on July 22nd, 1923 in Kershaw County, South Carolina.
Lillian had her interest in wrestling piqued by getting to see the legendary Women's Champion Mildred Burke.
She started out as "Slave Girl Moolah", a valet for "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers and after leaving him became a valet for the Elephant Boy (Tony Olivas).
In 1955, she went to work for Vince McMahon, Sr.'s Capitol Wrestling Corporation and it was actually Vince Sr. that gave her the ring name, "The Fabulous Moolah".
Moolah had a long wrestling career from 1949 to 2007.
On November 2nd, 2007 at the age of 84, Moolah passed away in Columbia, South Carolina.
During her career she held the WWF Women's Championship eight times.
One of the toughest women to ever set foot in a ring, Mildred Bliss was born on August 5th, 1915 in Coffeyville, Kansas.
Like a lot of other female wrestling pioneers, her interest in wrestling was sparked when her then boyfriend took her to see a wrestling event.
Back then they were pretty much limited to sideshows and carnivals as I have mentioned before.
Mildred was a natural athlete and one of these people that had muscles even though she really didn't work to get them.
When she approached promoter and trainer Billy Wolfe about training, he declined and told a male wrestler to body slam her.
Instead, Mildred slammed the male wrestler.
Billy changed his mind and in 1937, she defeated Clara Mortenson for the Women’s championship,
By the way, Mildred wrestled 200 men in her career and only lost once.
During her career, she held the World Women's Championship, the NWA World Women's Championship, the WWWA World Heavyweight Championship and in 2016, the WWE inducted her into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Mildred passed away on February 18th, 1989 in Northridge, California
Mae Weston vs Mildred Burke
Bette Boucher was born on July 29, 1943, in Webster, Massachusetts and was the NWA World Women's Champion in 1966.
The belt she held was a direct descendant of the Women's World Championship from 1935.
Bette only held the belt about a month though before losing it to The Fabulous Moolah.
Interestingly, Bette was at one time the sister-in-law of The Fabulous Moolah.
Bette's sister Rita also wrestled and they occasionally tag teamed.
She wrestled from 1959 to 1970.
Diane Vachon was born on February 14, 1944 in Newport, Vermont.
She wrestled under the ring name, Vivian Vachon and is considered to be one of the greatest female wrestlers ever.
Vivian was a member of the Vachon wrestling family, that also included Maurice "Mad Dog" Vachon, Paul "Butcher" Vachon and WWF star Luna Vachon.
Her career went from 1969 to 1986.
Vivian held the American Wrestling Association World Women's Championship, the GPW Women's Championship and the California Women's Championship.
Tragically, she and her nine year old daughter were killed in a car accident on August 24th, 1991, when they were hit by a drunk driver who had run a stop sign.
Six foot, 154 pound Susan Tex "Sue" Green was born on August 13, 1953 in Alice, Texas, United States.
Yes, as far as I know, her middle name really is "Tex".
Sue's wrestling background is pretty unique and proves that she has wrestling in her blood.
She started watching wrestling at the age of 5, going to live events with her dad.
Sue begged wrestling promoter Joe Blanchard (father of former Four Horseman Tully Blanchard) to train her.
Finally at the age of 14 he relented, and her parents had to go to then Texas Governor John B. Connally to get a release to allow her to wrestle on the weekends so that it would not interfere with school.
Her first pro match was on her 16th birthday in 1969.
After Joe, she was trained by The Fabulous Moolah.
Sue is a trainer now in Columbia, South Carolina.
Vintage female wrestler Nell Stewart was gorgeous.
I mean movie star level beautiful.
Nell was from Steele, Alabama and was trained by the legendary Gladys "Kill 'Em" Gillem.
So yeah, she could really wrestle.
She wasn't just pretty.
Now days she would fit right in with the WWE Divas looks wise, and could probably out wrestle 90 percent of them.
Like I said, back then the ladies in the ring were tough, or as Gordon Solie would have said, "Double tough".
50s female wrestler Lana Lamar reminds me a little of the original Silk Spectre in Alan Moore's "Watchmen" for some reason.
Maybe that was a popular look back then.
Anyway, Lana was trained by pro wrestler Frank “Rip” Collins.
She tag teamed a lot with Betty Hawkins and faced off with Barbara Baker quite a bit.
She was also good friends with June Byers.
But her career was cut short.
She was in a car accident after wrestling only about a year and suffered a broken back that ended her wrestling career.
She passed away on October 12th, 1983.
She was voted the 36th best women’s wrestler of all-time by Pro Wrestling Illustrated, but you may have never heard of Rita Cortez.
Rita started wrestling in the late 1950s, and by the mid 1960s she was ranked right up there with wrestlers like The Fabulous Moolah, June Byers and Penny Banner.
Rita and female wrestler Olga Martinez were the first female wrestlers to wrestle in Detroit's Olympia Stadium after the 25 year ban on women's wrestling was lifted.
Besides wrestling, Rita was known for her affair with Buddy Lee, who was the husband of "The Fabulous Moolah".
He and Moolah divorced and Buddy married Rita.
Rita passed away on July 27, 2012 in Hermitage, Tennessee at the age of 73.
Ann Casey Tribute
Another very popular female wrestler from the good old days here on this blog is Lucille Ann Casey aka Ann Casey, or "Panther Girl".
Ann was born on September 29th, 1938 in Saraland, Alabama.
She is of Irish (father) and Creek Indian (mother) ancestry.
Ann was trained by The Fabulous Moolah and wound up wrestling all over the United States and was pne of the first women to ever compete in a tag team match in the state of Hawaii.
She wrestled with and against some of the greats of the female wrestling world including Judy Grable, Rita Cortez, Donna Christanello, Penny Banner, Cara Combs, Kay Noble, Mae Young and Moolah herself.
During her career she held the NWA United States Women's Championship, the USA Women's Wrestling Championship, the Southern States Ladies Championship and the Mississippi State Ladies Championship.
After she retired from wrestling she worked for the Mississippi Forestry Commission, got a paralegal license, a bachelor's degree in criminal justice worked as a bail bondsman opened a restaurant and drove trucks.
At 78 years old, she is still quite active on Facebook and still has a large following of fans.
Female pro wrestler Marie Laverne was born on March 3rd, 1942 in Canada.
At five foot three, 139 pounds, she looked as much like a model as she did a wrestler.
As far as I can tell, she wrestled from 1970 to 1978.
Marie has wrestling in her blood.
She is the daughter of Billy Wolfe and Ann Laverne, and her step father was Pancho Villa.
Marie was also married to another wrestler, Gordon Nelson.
Rakesh Rathod from India on June 03, 2019:
nice article, as a fitness trainer I like it and good information.
Patti Powers from Virginia, USA on September 20, 2017:
Love the classic women. I got to know Penny Banner before her passing and am friends with Ann Casey now.