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Sue Brittain, the BWA (British Wrestling Association) Ladies Champion getting to grips with Jane St. John Halifax during a bout at Wimbledon Town Hall. London. 1979.Keystone/Getty Images
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Tag teams of female wrestlers battle it out in the ring. Date unspecified.Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
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A female wrestler is thrown to the mat during a match. Hamburg, Germany. Circa 1950.Evans/Three Lions/Getty Images
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A wrestling team poses for a photo. Date unspecified.Bettmann/Getty Images
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Wrestlers Maria Beer and Julie Frank perform the "twist hold" as they fight for the European Ladies Wrestling Championship title in 1901. Anton Tuscher/ullstein bild via Getty Images
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A wrestler hooks her arm around her opponent's neck as a group of women wearing swimsuits fight outside the ring. Circa 1960s. Keystone/Getty Images
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Wrestlers battle it out in the ring as the referee looks on. Date unspecified.Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
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American wrestler Clara Mortenson gives Betty Lee a taste of the aeroplane spin during their bout at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. 1937.Planet News Archive/SSPL/Getty Images
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Women wrestle while a referee makes the countdown. Circa 1970s.Focus on Sport/Getty Images
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Two female wrestlers perform in front of an audience in Hamburg. Circa 1950.Evans/Three Lions/Getty Images
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Lilian Ellison, also known as The Fabulous Moolah, winds up to punch her opponent. Well known on the wrestling circuit, The Fabulous Moolah is one of women's wrestling's pioneering veterans. Circa 1970s.Focus on Sport/Getty Images
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Gisela Steilingen and Rosa Kotowski fight in the European championships in 1901. Anton Tuscher/ullstein bild via Getty Images
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A spectator leans across the ropes as she shouts encouragement during a 1955 wrestling match. Alfred Strobel/BIPs/Getty Images
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Gisela Steilingen and Rosa Kotowski demonstrate the "Hitzler grip" at the European championships in 1901. Anton Tuscher/ullstein bild via Getty Images
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Gisela Steilingen and Rosa Kotowski demonstrate the "head grip" at the European championships in 1901. Anton Tuscher/ullstein bild via Getty Images
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Two of the first female wrestlers in the early days of the 1900s participate in a burlesque performance. George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images
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Two women wrestle and smile for the camera. Circa 1930s. Imagno/Getty Images
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Two famous female wrestlers take their talents to the bottom of the sea for a photograph. California. 1930. Austrian Archives (S)/Imagno/Getty Images
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Croft and Lola McLean demonstrate a move as others look on at the international wrestling matches for women in Sheffield, England. Circa 1930. Imagno/Getty Images
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Champion Clara Mortensen battles Mildred Burke and had her crown pulled off of her head at a championship match in Chattanooga, Tennessee. 1937. Bettmann/Getty Images
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Japanese wrestlers Sadako Igari and Hiroye Hojoji battle it out in front of approximately 10,000 fans who arrived to get their first look at women's wrestling. Tokyo, Japan. 1954.Bettmann/Getty Images
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Two female wrestlers battle it out on the mat while the referee watches. Hawkhurst, Kent, England. 1964. John Drysdale/Keystone Features/Getty Images
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Wrestlers demonstrate moves at a school for fashion models. 1954.Universal/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
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Clara Mortenson eventually came out from under this move to triumph over Lucy Murphy (top) with an unbreakable scissors grip at a match in Atlanta, Georgia. 1937.Planet News Archive/SSPL/Getty Images
24 Raw Photos From The Wild Old Days Of Women’s Wrestling
With the Netflix original series GLOW having recently brought the art of women's wrestling back to the mainstream masses, the sport is now seeing a resurgence. And while many people consider the 1970s and '80s (during which GLOW is set) to have been when women’s wrestling was born, it's actually been around much longer than that.
While wrestling as a spectator sport dates back 15,000 years, wrestling as a profession for entertainment came somewhat recently. Much the same as the early days of male professional wrestling, women’s wrestling first appeared in the Victorian Era as a sideshow attraction for touring carnivals. Then, when the circus circuit hit North America, the wrestling sideshows came along with it.
Although typically disregarded as an activity for circus freaks, women’s wrestling used its performers' strength and sex appeal to keep audiences captivated. And so this unique form of performance art slowly began to gain traction at the turn of the 20th century, as shows were staged in various burlesque houses, bars, and taverns, with wrestlers egging on spectators by taking on male challengers from the crowd.
Clad in underwear, swimsuits, and tight athletic gear, the outrageous and over-the-top performers worked to keep their viewers excited and engaged, depicting a kind of woman who wasn’t commonly represented at the time — one who was loud, unapologetic, and strong.
The wrestling business as a whole began to find its footing in the following years, staging title-fight competitions for both its male and female performers, predetermining the outcome of the event to ensure maximum entertainment value.
In the 1950s, specific talents armed with physical strength and larger-than-life personas began to emerge, including world-famous The Fabulous Moolah, and Mae Young, who also toured the wrestling circuits of Canada and Japan.
Ultimately, the 1980s are most widely thought to represent the golden age of women’s wrestling and the point at which the art form really took off on a commercial level. It was at this time that more and more women's wrestling organizations began to pop up, helping the sport rise in popularity all over the world.
Taking things even further, the 1986 syndicated TV series, GLOW, or Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, made big strides in taking women’s wrestling from the back rooms and sideshows it was once associated with, to the television sets of American living rooms, and introduced viewers to the flamboyant alter egos and athletic moves for which professional wrestling is best known to this day.