“We just laughed because we knew they were wrong.”
Abbye “Pudgy” Stockton
Activities: Gymnastics, Weight and Olympic lifting, Physique competitor
Those familiar with female bodybuilding, when asked to name forerunners of the sport, name women like Rachel McLish, Kike Elomaa, Carla Dunlap, and Corey Everson. These women come to mind for many, because when Joe Weider, founder of the Mr. Olympia, one of, if not, the biggest bodybuilding competition known to date, created a female division in 1980, each one of these ladies held the title of Miss Olympia at one point throughout the first decade. For many, the Miss (Ms. today) Olympia was the first official competition to really put female bodybuilding on the map. What most fail to realize is before there was a Miss Olympia, there was a strong-woman competition and before McLish, Elomaa, Dunlap and Everson, there was Abbye “Pudgy” Stockton, a professional strong-woman and true pioneer for female bodybuilding.
Born on August 11, 1917, Abbye Eville spent her formative years in Santa Monica, CA. Acquiring the nickname Pudgy as a child, it stuck with her even though she was only 5’2 and 115 pounds. She met Les Stockton her senior year of high school and they were married in 1941.
Abbye and Les would spend hours at Muscle Beach practicing acrobatics and gymnastics. One move in particular that caught the attention of the media was a hand to hand, handstand they would perform. This launched her career because she would support Les (180 lbs) over her head in the stunt, and a woman strong enough to support a man in this acrobatic feat was unheard of at that time. She quickly became featured on newsreels and in magazines. Vitamin and camera companies used her in ads and by the end of the 40’s, it was estimated she had appeared on the cover of approximately 42 magazine covers.
In 1944, Abbye began writing a regular column for the most influential fitness magazine in the world, Strength and Health. The column, “Barbells” focused on women’s training and her constant voice in a male dominated world, enabled her to help organize the first sanctioned female weightlifting competition. The Amateur Athletic Union held the first contest on February 28, 1947 in Los Angeles, CA. During the contest, Abbye pressed 100 lbs, snatched 105 lbs and clean and jerked 135 lbs.
Although Abbye opened many doors for women in the world of weightlifting and physique competitions, she only held one title during her career due to the fact that physique competitions for women were non-existent. In 1948, she was named Miss Physical Culture Venus and in 2000, she was inducted into the IFBB (International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness) Hall of Fame.
The progression of females in physique competitions today can be attributed to Abbye “Pudgy” Stockton and women who came before her that didn’t stop when told exercise, weightlifting, and sports would ruin them, and make them less feminine. Abbye’s most famous quote in regard to women and exercise is as follows, “people use to say that if women worked out, they would become masculine-looking or wouldn’t be able to get pregnant. We just laughed because we knew they were wrong.”