The Kilgore Rangerettes, the first women's precision drill team in the world, began in 1940 under the direction of Gussie Nell Davis, a physical-education teacher. The team was originally organized at the behest of Kilgore College president B. E. Masters to recruit more female students, to provide half-time shows during the football season, and to promote physical activities for women equal to men's. Masters brought Davis, who had established the "Flaming Flashes," a high school girls' drum and bugle corps in Greenville in 1928, to Kilgore and gave her a free hand in setting up the team. She quickly enlisted the help of local oil millionaire Liggett Crim to pay for the Rangerettes' initial costs.
The group became popular locally after its debut at a football game in September 1940. Its fame promptly spread outside Kilgore, and within a year the Rangerettes had traveled to New Orleans to represent the region's oil business at the Lions International convention. The Rangerettes began appearing throughout East Texas in "bond shows" in support of the war effort. They have continued to perform for the college and have also participated in many other athletic and special events, such as the Cotton Bowl game, the International Tennis Stars Exhibition, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the American Bar Association Convention. Since the 1970s they have taken six world tours, to South America, the Far East, Romania, France, Canada, and Japan.
Members of the troupe are selected each August at a two-week tryout camp, during which as many as 150 applicants vie for some thirty openings. Normally sixty-five students make up the team, but only forty-eight members actually perform at one time. Known for well-choreographed routines, including its trademark high kick, the troupe thrived under the direction of Gussie Davis for almost four decades, until her retirement in 1979. She was responsible for turning the Rangerettes into a company that executed perfect routines by holding to the concept that the Rangerettes "don't make mistakes."
The Rangerettes have historically been identified with one costume, made up of a blouse, arm gauntlets, a belt, and a short circular skirt, in red, white, and blue. A white hat and boots complete the Rangerette look. The costume has remained unchanged, except for a slight shortening of the skirt length.
Since the Kilgore Rangerettes became so popular, all-female drill teams have proliferated throughout the state, with 15,000 high school students and 1,000 college students participating annually. Nationwide, the Rangerettes' legacy has garnered the involvement of some 75,000 high school drill team members. To underscore the significance of the Kilgore Rangerettes, Kilgore College opened a Rangerette Showcase on its campus in 1979. The exhibit, housed in the college's physical education building, features costumes, props, and other memorabilia. A sixty-seat theater in the building provides films and slide shows on Rangerette performances.
The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.