This summer, Big Swole and Tasha Steelz will set out to prove that two women of color can headline a wrestling event at JobberSlam. However, some fans may not realize black women competed in the main event of shows regularly in the early 1950s.
Ethel Johnson, Babs Wingo, Kathleen Wimbley, and Marva Scott emerged during what many would consider the golden age of women’s wrestling. Johnson is often heralded as the first black women’s wrestler, with the other three following in her footsteps.
All four women were talented, but Johnson stood out because she was the most naturally athletic and she often went over. In addition, her use of the standing dropkick made her an innovator.
In 1952, Johnson, Wingo, and Wimbley worked three matches at a show in Baltimore, ending the night with a tag match in the main event. This show boasted a record crowd with 3,611 fans in attendance. In 1954, Johnson and Wingo received headline an event at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, drawing 9,000 patrons.
Ethel Johnson eventually challenged her mentor, Mildred Burke, for the NWA World Women’s Championship. Unfortunately, she never won the title or reached the popularity she seemed destined to achieve.
Nevertheless, she and her peers paved the way for many African American women who came after them. It’s truly a shame that her story isn’t talked about more. She made a mark on the world of professional wrestling when there weren’t any opportunities for competitors like her.