National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame

By: Mary Lou LeCompte and Jennifer E. Nielsen

Type: General Entry

Published: August 31, 2009

Updated: January 27, 2022

The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, a privately-funded 501 (c)(3) organization, opened its new 33,000-square-foot, $21 million facility in the Fort Worth Cultural District on June 8, 2002. The exterior of the Tulsa Deco Building, designed by David Schwartz, features a trompe l'oeil mural of four cowgirls galloping toward the viewer. The museum, formerly known as the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center, moved to Fort Worth in 1994.

The National Cowgirl Hall of Fame was conceived in 1975 when the board of directors of the Deaf Smith County Chamber of Commerce sought a unique and inspirational attraction to boost civic pride for their county seat, Hereford. The board decided to honor the women of professional rodeo by starting the annual All-Girl Rodeo, held at the Riders' Club Arena in Hereford in August. The late Margaret C. Formby, a Hall of Fame honoree, spearheaded the drive and became the museum's founding director. The original archives were housed in the basement of the Deaf Smith County Library, while induction ceremonies took place in the dusty arena during a break in the action of the Hereford All-Girl Rodeo. Jackie Worthington, Sissy Thurman, and Alice Greenough Orr were the first inductees. Subsequently, Girls' Rodeo Association (now Women's Professional Rodeo Association) cofounders Dixie Reger Mosley, Nancy Binford, Thena Mae Farr, and Mary Ellen (Dude) Barton were added.

In 1977 the organization expanded to honor outstanding women who have contributed to the advancement of Western heritage. Among the famous women so honored were Lewis and Clark guide Sacajawea, bootmaker Enid Justin (see JUSTIN INDUSTRIES), and "Little House" author Laura Ingalls Wilder. Among the 2002 honorees was El Paso native Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court. Because honorees continued to send mementos, the collection quickly outgrew its cramped quarters. In 1981 the Hall moved into a house donated by a Hereford couple, Marsh and Debbie Pitman, while induction ceremonies moved indoors to civic buildings.

By 1994 Formby realized that the museum had again outgrown its location, and reluctantly began seeking a new venue. Thirty-two cities expressed interest, with Fort Worth chosen. The new museum is located in the Fort Worth Cultural District. It is "the only museum in the world dedicated to honoring and documenting the lives of legendary women who have distinguished themselves while exemplifying the spirit of the American West." The board of directors and Executive Director Patricia W. Riley supervised the design and successful transition to the new facility. The first floor is dominated by the Hall of Fame Rotunda. This includes the Hall of Fame where a ribbon of etched medallions is inscribed with the names of each honoree. Two touch-screen electronic yearbooks provide photographs and biographies on each honoree. The upper floor of the rotunda is lined with twelve glass murals depicting portraits of cowgirls. The images slowly change, giving the illusion of movement. A gift shop, café, featured exhibit gallery, and theater complete the first floor. Above are the three main galleries. "Into the Arena" features rodeo and Wild West show cowgirls such as Annie Oakley and Barbara Inez "Tad" Lucas. "Kinship with the Land" is dedicated to American ranch women like Hallie Crawford Stillwell, while "Claiming the Spotlight" honors cowgirl actresses and singers including Dale Evans and Patsy Montana. Throughout the exhibits are interactive displays, archival films, costumes and artifacts. Among the most notable artifacts are the 1933 leg cast of bronc-rider Ruth Roach, a fancy Bohlin saddle owned by Dale Evans, and the 1899 side saddle of rancher and artist Getrude Maxwell. The upper floor also includes a library and research center. The museum regularly sponsors traveling exhibits, lectures, films, and other cultural events related to women in Western history. See also MABIE, VICTORIA LOUISE MASSEY; REEVES, CONSTANCE DOUGLAS [CONNIE]; HARPER, MARGARET PEASESTILLWELL, HALLIE CRAWFORD

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Ann Dingus, "Even Cowgirls Get Their Due," Texas Monthly, June 2002. Candace Leslie, "National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame: New Home on the Range," Texas Highways, December 2002. National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame (, accessed June 12, 2007.

  • Museums, Libraries, and Archives
  • Museums
  • General History Museums
  • Women
  • Libraries
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth

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

Mary Lou LeCompte and Jennifer E. Nielsen, “National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022,

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August 31, 2009
January 27, 2022

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