Farr, Thena Mae (1927–1985)

By: Mary Lou LeCompte

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1995

Updated: January 29, 2022

Thena Mae Farr, champion cowgirl, rodeo producer, and cofounder of the Women's Professional Rodeo Association, daughter of Tom and Lula Farr, was born on December 16, 1927, in Baylor County, Texas, where she lived all of her life. Both her parents were Baylor County natives, and they raised three children on their ranch near Seymour. A typical ranch youngster, Thena Mae learned to ride at a very young age and became a noted equestrienne as well as outstanding all-around athlete. At Seymour High School, where she graduated in 1944, she was class secretary and basketball captain in 1942 and 1943. But her equestrian skills and outgoing personality earned her greater honors in the community. In her four terms as "Miss Seymour" she represented the town at rodeos and horse shows throughout the Southwest. She earned many honors in amateur "sponsor contests," combination beauty and equestrian contests that during the early 1940s were the only rodeo events open to women.

She attended Texas State College for Women (later Texas Woman's University) in 1944–45 before returning home to become a full-time rancher. However, her interest in rodeo remained strong, and she dreamed of the chance to compete in real, rough, stock and roping contests like the cowboys. She and her close friend Nancy Binford of Wildorado, Texas, often discussed their frustration at being shut out of rodeo competition. In September 1947 they solved the problem by producing an all-girl rodeo at the Tri-State Fair in Amarillo. Their successful venture broke all fair attendance records and motivated the participants to form the Girl's Rodeo Association (now the Women's Professional Rodeo Association) the following year.

Farr served on the original board of directors of the GRA and followed Binford in the presidency in 1951. In addition, the two incorporated their production company as the Tri-State All Girl Rodeo and for the next five years produced all-girl rodeos in Texas, Colorado, and Mississippi, thus providing women opportunities they had long lacked. Farr also continued competing, winning saddles, trailers, and prize money in cutting, bareback bronc riding, barrel racing, and flag racing. By the time she and Nancy Binford decided to dissolve their company in 1953, all-girl rodeos were well established in many states, and the GRA had become accepted as the sole governing body for women's contests in American rodeo. The two, confident that they had achieved their goals, left the business having broken even but never having shown a profit.

According to the Wichita Falls Times, Farr was a noted rattlesnake hunter in the Seymour area of Baylor County. She had gone on these hunts, which were necessary to protect both people and livestock, since she was six years old. Over the years she had plenty of opportunity to hone her skills on her father’s 7,000-acre ranch, which was stocked with 1,400 Herefords. In 1955 she and Rae Beach, a GRA director and bareback bronc rider from Monterey Park, California, showed newspaper reporters how they cleared two snake dens on the ranch. Beach used a hoe to goad the snakes to move into gunsight of Farr’s .22 rifle.

On the evening of December 29, 1955, twenty-six-year-old Farr suffered a severe gunshot wound when a 12-gauge shotgun accidentally discharged as she exited her truck at her family’s ranch home. The charge broke her leg and severed an artery. After several transfusions, doctors at the Bayor County Hospital amputated her left leg.

Farr then turned her attention to ranching and community activities. She served as an adult leader for the 4-H Club and belonged to the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, West Texas Chamber of Commerce, American Cattle Raisers Association, Seymour Remuda Club, Seymour Chamber of Commerce, Baylor County Farm Bureau, and American Quarter Horse Association. She was a lifelong Democrat and active in the Seymour First United Methodist Church, to which she donated several items in memory of her parents. For her many contributions to women's rodeo through her all-girl rodeos and charter membership in the GRA, Thena Mae Farr was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in June 1985. She died after a short illness in October of that year and was buried at Westover Cemetery, near Seymour. Professional rodeo is today a lucrative full-time career for women.

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Cattleman, January 1986. Files, National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center, Hereford, Texas. Wichita Falls Times, March 20, 1955; June 9, 1985.

  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Cowboys and Cowgirls
  • Rodeo Personalities
  • Sports and Recreation
  • Sports (Rodeo)
  • Women

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Mary Lou LeCompte, “Farr, Thena Mae,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 10, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/farr-thena-mae.

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January 1, 1995
January 29, 2022

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