The chances are that your average Hollywood Western didn’t capture the image of a cowgirl, but rather that of a cowboy.
Many of us may have grown accustomed to the image of a male riding that horse, engaging in a fierce duel with his rival, and firing those pistols.
Historically speaking, women had their fair share of taming the broncos, too.
The facts are that there were plenty of female cowgirls, some pioneers and some ranchers, and delivering top-notch, stunning performances at the traditional rodeo shows.
Remember women like Ohio-born markswoman Annie Oakley, who was renowned for her sharpshooting ability? Or Missouri’s Lucille Mulhall, declared the first cowgirl by President Roosevelt, who was watching in the crowd as the 14-year-old demonstrating her riding skills on the Mulhall ranch. After easily winning scores of competitions, Mulhall went on to host a Wild West show of her own.
In the photos below, the heyday of the Cowgirl is captured. Time to see how the West was won!
In the early 20th century, the Cheyenne Frontier Days festivity and the Pendleton Round-Up were among the first two big events where women were able to demonstrate their skills in rodeo.
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Times turned for the worse when a 1936 regulation excluded women from major events.
Things slightly improved for women after World War Two. By this time, however, women’s participation in rodeo shows was reduced to the role of sponsor girls who would ride next to the cowboys at the events, or to run the horsemanship exhibits.
Needless to say, it wasn’t long before there was the reaction.
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In 1948, a group of 38 women, all of whom perfectly able to tame a stubborn bronc, traveled to San Angelo, Texas, where they formed the Girls Rodeo Association. It was one of the most important associations of the day to support women contestants in various rodeo categories. From then on, things only kept on evolving.
If you are perhaps looking for a museum documenting the history of cowgirls, head for the Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Texas’s Fort Worth, where there is a collection of thousands of items.
A library that is part of the museum keeps books telling the history of women who excelled as performers, ranchers or pioneers.
One of the nation’s most significant photograph collections of women, both famous and anonymous, can also be explored here.