Susan Brittain stood up for women’s wrestling, changed the law and changed attitudes in England.
The 1970s produced some of the most famous names in women’s wrestling plying their trade in the United Colonies. To name a few, the Fabulous Moolah, Vicki Williams, Donna Christanello, Toni Rose, Joyce Grable, Vivian Vachon and more. While these female greats were making a name for themselves here, there was great women’s wrestling in England as well but it was more of a challenge to have female matches on the cards due to government opposition.
A woman greatly respected in the UK wrestling world who helped pave the way for women’s wrestling in England passed away in 2013 but the sacrifices she made and the fortitude she demonstrated to fight for women’s wrestling to have its rightful place in the ring will long be remembered and appreciated.
Her name was Sue Brittain.
On May 14, 2013 the bbc.co.uk.com reported the funeral of a woman who fought for the equality of female wrestlers has been held. Sue Brittain was a professional wrestler during the 1970s, but she often had to fight legal battles outside the ring to ply her trade.
She held the British Wrestling Alliance (BWA) ladies champion title from its inception in 1970 until she retired undefeated in 1982. She was also recognized by the American Ring Wrestling magazine and was placed in their top 10 rankings as a wrestler.
WWW.geocities.ws/Colosseum/Sideline shares Ms. Brittain had her first contact with the sport of pro-wrestling through the journalistic efforts of her husband. Through him she met such greats of the 196Os independent world of wrestling as Hurricane Smith and the great veteran wrestler and promoter, Cyril Knowles. At that time women’s wrestling was at best look upon as freakish and more often as a near perversion. There were about 10 or 11 active girls throughout Great Britain and these ladies had a very limited choice of venue due to the many byelaws of most towns and cities which banned women from the ring. There were approximately five girls active in the Lancashire area, three in the Lincolnshire/Norfolk areas working out of Leicester and two or three active in West Yorks.
Within three years of Ms. Brittain’s entry into pro-wrestling there was only to be one of those originals still active – Miss Mitzi Muller who also had a long and very honorable career in the ring.
After a period of training by her very learned mentors Sue Brittain saw her first action in Tynemouth in Northumberland against arch-villainess, Maria Rivoldi. It was not to be a happy or memorable night for Ms. Brittain as she ended the night K.O.d and badly hurt.
After this inglorious beginning Sue Brittain continued around the independent circuits winning and losing but mostly on the losing end going on to more K.O loses against ring pros Mitzi Muller and Miss Rivoidi. Then she decided that though her training had been of the highest standard it was not her nor her style and so began the real career of Sue Brittain. Soon Miss Rivoldi, Mitzi Muller, Mandy Davies and the others were finding out what it was to lose to Ms. Brittain.
Later towards the end of 1970 several new proprietors met up and decided to get together and bring an element of reform into the business by having delineated areas etc. but most or all by bringing in nationally recognized Championships so that instead of being Champion for one’s own promoter but just “Joe Bloggs” when working for anyone else one could hold a Title that was recognized by the entire group. Hence was born the British Wrestling Alliance.
Soon after a series of eliminators Ms. Brittain became the first and only nationally recognized Champion.
Despite receiving many offers to fight outside the UK in mainland Europe and the US she never did so, turning the offers down because she did not want to leave her family.
Ms. Brittain’s legal challenges came to a head when she used equal opportunities legislation against the then Greater London Council during a two-day court hearing in 1979. She won the case and went on to fight against Jane St John at Wimbledon Town Hall.
It was the first women’s bout in London since the 1930s.
Wikipedia reports The Greater London Council (GLC) was the top-tier local government administrative body for Greater London from 1965 to 1986. It replaced the earlier London County Council (LCC) which had covered a much smaller area. The GLC was dissolved in 1986 by the Local Government Act 1985 and its powers were devolved to the London boroughs and other entities.
The comparisons to Emmeline Pankhurst were inevitable.
Emmeline Pankhurst (born Goulden; 15 July 1858 – 14 June 1928) was a British political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement who helped women win the right to vote. In 1999 Time named Pankhurst as one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century, stating: “she shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back.” She was widely criticized for her militant tactics, and historians disagree about their effectiveness, but her work is recognized as a crucial element in achieving women’s suffrage in Britain, shares Wikipedia.
History1900s.about.com relates British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst championed the cause of women’s voting rights in Great Britain in the early 20th century, founding the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903. Her militant tactics earned her several imprisonments and stirred up controversy among various suffragist groups. Widely credited with bringing women’s issues to the forefront — thus helping them win the vote — Pankhurst is considered one of the most influential women of the twentieth century.
When you watch 1970s footage of Ms. Brittain in action, it may be easy to see it as an old news reel from another time period where the people didn’t really exist, like characters in a black and white movie. For those of us who went to wrestling matches in the 1970s when women wrestlers were a novelty, at the time it seem so cutting edge, so modern, so real. Sue Brittain and others who made the most of their window of time on this earth are simply ordinary people who did extraordinary things. Time passes, we all age and fade into old footage but what we stand for could affect change and last lifetimes.
Female Competition International appreciates the efforts of both of the above women who created better choices and options for female athletes who desire to wrestle without duress from those outside. Title Nine has greatly contributed to the advancement of women’s sports in America but for other societies where no similar laws exist, it’s often up to individuals like Ms. Brittain to mount the courage to place themselves at risk, take a stand and change the world.
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Sources: Wikipedia, bbc.co.uk.com, www.geocities.ws/Colosseum/Sideline, History1900s.about.com, Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Photo Ms. Brittain http://www.wrestling-fun.co.uk/suebri1.htm