Mae Young, born Johnnie Mae Young in 1923, was one of the pioneers of female wrestling. While in high school in the late 1930s, Young learned to fight on the boys wrestling team and played football alongside the boys at her school. Young's tenacity and fierceness won her entry to the barely existent world of women's wrestling. During World War II, doors opened for more women in the sport while men were at war.
These "lady wrestlers," as they were known, captivated audiences. Young commented that the men didn't like them because they stole the show. Preferring to fight hard and fight dirty, Young became a wrestler that audiences loved to hate. At times, chicken wire was put up around the wrestling ring to protect Young from the eggs and vegetables hurled at her during matches. In the 2004 documentary, Lipstick & Dynamite, Young said, “Anybody can be a baby face, what we call a clean wrestler. They don’t have to do nothing. It’s the heel that carries the whole show. I’ve always been a heel, and I wouldn’t be anything else but.”
Young didn't stop at being a pioneer and building her own brand in wrestling. Much of her legacy and longevity come from her dedication to training other women in the sport. She trained and became best friends with Lillian Ellison, known as the Fabulous Moolah. The two worked together for decades, going on to continue fighting into the 1990s and 2000s.
From wrestling with the boys in high school to wearing mens clothes and smoking cigars in the 1950s to becoming the National Wrestling Alliance's first United States Women's Champion in the 1960s to jumping back in the ring for WWE in the 1990s and 2000s despite being in her seventies, Young constantly challenged gender norms and never shied away from a challenge. Even with all her grit and gusto, Young took the time to nurture other women wrestlers and set the stage women in the future.
- Watch the documentary Lipstick & Dynamite on Amazon Instant Video (included with Prime)
- Read about her career on WWE's website.
- Read about Young and other early women wrestlers in the book, Sisterhood of the Squared Circle.
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