Abbye and her future husband first came to “Muscle Beach” in the late 1930s when she was 19. She began lifting dumbbells, performing calisthenics, and doing gymnastics. Abbye soon began developing the physique and build she was famous for. She and her husband, Les, gained special attention for a move where she balanced on his hands, over his head, and did a 100lb shoulder press.
In addition to her own workouts, Abbye wrote a column for Strength and Health Magazine from 1944 to 1954 called “Barbelles.” In her column, she focused on the benefits of exercise for women and how weightlifting could improve your performance as an athlete. In 1947, Abbye organized the first weightlifting meet for women and in 1948 she opened a women’s only gym on Sunset Boulevard. She appeared on the cover of over 40 magazines.
After World War II, Abbye toured the country speaking and doing exhibitions. In 1952 she and her husband opened a gym for men and one for women, side by side. She worked at another women’s gym in Los Angeles for 20 years after that. In 2000, Abbye was inducted in the International Federation of Bodybuilding Hall of Fame. She died in 2006 at the age of 88.
Abbye was a powerful role model for women of the day and her impact was significant. She defied the common belief held at the time that lifting weights was unfeminine and dangerous for women’s health. As America entered World War II many women entered the workforce for the first time and found inspiration in her. Abbye exemplified how a woman could be very strong but also remain feminine. She became a pivotal figure in how people viewed exercise for women and female athletes.
Author, Molly Malone