Women Wrestlers Come to North Platte

Written By: nppladmin - May• 24•21
Originally published to facebook.com/NorthPlattePL on May 21, 2021

Today’s history Friday is about lady wrestlers that broke barriers. The history of women’s wrestling pre-dates the 1980’s by decades; in fact, the Golden Age of Women Wrestling took place in the 1940’s and 1950’s; and North Platte actually hosted several female wrestling events! Today, we salute those female athletes!

On March 28, 1947 the North Platte Daily Telegraph announced a first in sporting events for North Platte. The Lion’s Club was hosting a “Rasslin’ Show” at the Fox Theater and for the first time, female wrestlers were coming to the North Platte wrestling ring, according to the newspaper.

White women wrestlers, Nell Stewart and Violet Viann, were scheduled to fight three bouts as the main event of the evening. Nell Stewart was better known as the “Marilyn Monroe of Wrestling”. <see photographs>

In August of 1951, wrestlers Donna Marie and Betty Hawkins came to North Platte to put on a show for the wrestling fans. The match was held at the Jeffers Park behind the Jeffers Pavilion. The Union Pacific Athletic Club sponsored the match.

On November 13, 1953, it was announced that the North Platte Baseball Association was opening a new boxing and wrestling arena above the Hinman Garage on the corner of Bailey and 4th Streets. Four ladies from the Australian Tag Team were scheduled to battle it out. They were Barbara Baker and Donna Marie Dieckman as one team, and Ruth Boatcallie and Carol Cook as another team.

Then in January of 1955, North Platte had another first in sporting events. On January 29th, four black women were coming to tussle in a match. Ethel Johnson, Marva Scott, Babs Wingo, and Kathy Wimbley were scheduled to fight in the best two out of three bouts. Of the four wrestlers, three of them were sisters. Babs Wingo, the oldest, Ethel Johnson was the middle sister, and Marva Scott, the youngest, hailed from Decatur, Georgia. The fourth woman, Kathy Wimbley, was from Columbus, OH. By the time they were wrestling, they were calling different places home from Atlanta, GA to New Orleans, NJ and many places in between. <see photographs>

The four women became professional wrestlers in 1950. Ethel was considered the heroic figure, and Babs the villain when they performed together. Ethel was also the most athletic of the three sisters. Ethel retired in 1976 and passed away on September 18, 2019. Babs (Betty) and Marva passed away in 2003.

According to the Daily Telegraph a few days after the January 29, 1955 North Platte debut, the wrestling match was a huge success. Due to the good turnout the ladies were brought back to North Platte on October 22, 1955 to grapple again. That match, deemed “Rassle Royal”, brought back Kathleen Wimbley, Babs Wingo, Ethel Johnson, and they were joined by Louise Green and Betty White. All of the events also had male wrestling matches, but the ladies became more popular and were a big draw for many years throughout the country.

According to an article written by Neil Genzlinger on November 25, 2019 for the New York Times, the story of the three ladies became part of a documentary called “Lady wrestler: The Amazing, Untold Story of African-American Women in the Ring.” This new documentary released in December 2020 is available from Amazon. Clips of various historic matches throughout the country involving these barrier breaking women can also be found on YouTube.

All of the black lady wrestlers braved racism and sexism in a white, male-dominated sport during years that segregation was still in effect. At the peak of their wrestling careers, they were among the highest paid black athletes in the United States.

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