Each week we will look at either a specific time period or woman who changed the game and allowed female stars to shine. We also can’t shy away from some of the more uncomfortable aspects of the industry and the struggles these women went through so the women of today can shine as bright as they do.
The Early Years: Part One
This week we will be looking at a variety of women who were very important and influential to Women’s wrestling. Not much is known about them but the things we do know are interesting to say the least. Conflicting stories and dates make finding these women and their accomplishments very difficult but I have tried my best to do this and make sure their stories are told.
Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?
Grace Hemindinger (dates Unknown)
Hemindinger was a 6 ft, 275 lbs American woman, considered one of the very first American born women’s wrestlers in the country, who predominately wrestled men between 1875 and 1878. She would later retire from the sport and go on to perform feats of great strength in a circus instead but disguised herself as a Male because the public wouldn’t accept a female being so strong.
Alice Williams (dates unknown)
Alice Williams was born sometime in the mid to late 1800s in Vermont, or believed to be from there as she was billed there.
In 1891 Williams was wrestling and worked alongside Sadie Morgan for the promoter and sponsor Richard Kyle Fox. Alice Williams would defeat Sadie Morgan at the Bastille of the Bowery to become Women’s World Champion (as Richard Kyle Fox’s Women’s Champion) her career would be eclipsed by Josie Wahlford aka Minerva. Wahlford is recognised as the first official Women’s World Champion in history.
On 4th February 1891 Williams was the “Women’s World Champion” but was billed as the Graeco-Roman lightweight champion, she would still be champion when she appeared in Louisville, Kentucky on 19th April 1892.
Williams took part in three matches spanning two days against May Morgan for her Women’s World Championship, both women at the time where acknowledged as champions. May Morgan was billed from Ohio, and the two would do battle at Kernan’s Theatre, Maryland at “Billy Lester’s Big Show” as reported in the 29th April 1891 edition of The Washington Post.
Williams would win the first match on the Monday with Morgan taking the second on the Tuesday afternoon. The two women would duke it out on the Tuesday evening only for Williams to take the third match, retain her title, and also win a $300 USD prize. The article from The Washington Post reported that it was “the most exciting bout thus far” “not a mere exhibition” and that both women would not “lose the prize without a struggle.”
Around the same time as Josie Wahlford, Alice Williams apparently held a claim to the Women’s World Championship title. Sometime before losing the belt to Laura Bennett in 1901 she would win the title off of Wahlford.
Alice Williams seems to have vanished into the annals of history, as little is known about her life, career, or death, but what cannot be denied is her importance to the early years of women’s wrestling.
Minerva aka Josephine Schauer Blatt (1865/1869 – 1st September 1923)
Blatt was also known as Josie Wahlford but more commonly referred to by her stage name Minerva. She was born sometime in 1869 in New York City; although she would claim it was 1865 in Hamburg, Germany, and would go on to join the circus sideshows as their resident strongwoman in 1887.
She stood at 5ft 8in, she was also billed at 6ft, and weighed 175 lbs, Minerva’s heavily muscled frame bears a striking resemblance to a future pioneer of women’s wrestling Chyna. During this time she married fellow circus performer and strongman “The Professor” Charlie Blatt who would be the one to train her in the art of catch wrestling.
Even though it is stated that Cora Livingstone was the first Woman’s Champion, this is disputed by many sources. Sometime in the 1890s, Josie would be crowned as the first official Women’s World Champion by the National Police Gazette, which directly contradicts the claim that Cora was the first. This pre-date’s George Hackenschmidt becoming the first Men’s World Champion in 1905 by almost 15 years. Wahlford would put her title on the line against women and men, the stipulation being that the men who challenged her could not outweigh her by more than 20lbs.
From 1892 onwards Josie would appear in wrestling arenas, including tours of Mexico in 1892, and remain undefeated until the end of the century. She was one of the first really capable wrestlers to emerge at the time and at the age of just 24 had defeated all her opposition, limited as it was, resulting in her touring the vaudeville circuit as a strong woman. She would lose the belt to Alice Williams at some point around 1901.
As a strongwomen Minerva claimed to have never lost a weight lifting contest, she would lift 700 pounds a foot off of the floor and also lift 100 pound dumb bells, this resulted is her being entered into the ”Guinness Book of World Records” for the most weight ever lifted by a woman.
By the end of Josie’s athletic career she was 36 and had challenged the new champion, in an attempt to return to wrestling, Laura Bennett twice both in a losing effort.
Harry Shelland, a former Police Gazette author, described Josie as a mild-mannered sweet natured woman. She was also known to get mad if anyone suggested that women where the weaker sex. In an 1892 interview she would recount one instance of this happening “I warned him to keep quiet and finally [he] dared me down off the stage. I jumped over the railing off the stage and went for him. Grabbing him by the throat, I threw him across the tent against a pole. I was so angry”
Josie Wahlford aka Minerva retired from active competition in 1910 and went on to invest in real estate in New Jersey. She would marry three times and produce four children. She died on 1st September 1923.
Other Women of note:
In 1891 Morgan would lose a bout to Alice Williams at the Bastille of the Bowery, this is where Williams would become Women’s World Champion (as Richard Kyle Fox’s Women’s Champion). This match is noted in the “Pioneers of Professional Wrestling: 1860–1899” book written by Tim Corvin.
On the 29th April 1891 Alice Williams defended her title at the Kernan’s Theatre, Maryland against May Morgan in a best of three contest, spanning over two days. May Morgan would lose but The Washington Post reported that it was “the most exciting bout thus far” on the card.
Gorman fought contemporary Minerva on many occasions during the later part of the 19th Century.