Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in History (MA)

Degree Level





Calvin White, Jr.

Committee Member

Jeannie Whayne

Second Committee Member

Jim Gigantino


African American, Immigrant, Sport, Wrestling


Trends within sports and popular entertainment have long been regarded as great indicators of larger transitions in the social, political, and economic landscape of the United States. Repeatedly mined and often used for context, sports have become intrinsically linked to the broader discussions of people, their beliefs, ideals, and actions occurring in the historiography of American culture. However, one sport has regularly been passed over in these examinations. I argue that the modern day entertainment monolith of professional wrestling serves as one of the most important indicators of socioeconomic change in the history of the U.S., and that it plays an integral role in the experience of second-wave European immigrants and American ethnic minorities, the professionalization and commodification of sporting culture occurring in the Progressive Era, and the development of a new, diverse American popular culture emerging in the early to mid-twentieth century. I chart the history of the business, including the advent of the sport as a carnival sideshow, its relegation to lowbrow entertainment, its intersections with middle-class European immigrants, the influences of vaudeville and theater, the implementation of capitalist machinery, the professionalization and monetization of the industry, the importance of television and an increasingly unified American culture of leisure and entertainment, and the sport’s treatment of ethnic minorities as a reflection of societal norms and civil progress. Through this complex narrative, I conclude that professional wrestling, both as a sport and vehicle for entertainment, serves as a perfect reflection of the injustices and capitalist influences experienced by second-wave European immigrants and ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans, and should no longer be regarded as a fabricated soap opera unworthy of a second look but rather as an important tool for charting the socioeconomic transitions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.