The Girls Rodeo Association (GRA), now the Women's Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA), the oldest women’s professional sports organization in the United States and the only one controlled and managed entirely by women, was formed on February 28, 1948, by thirty-eight women from Texas and Oklahoma who met for that purpose at the St. Angelus Hotel in San Angelo, Texas. These women had previously discussed the idea for the organization during a historic all-girl rodeo, the Tri-State All-Girl Rodeo, produced at Amarillo in September 1947 by Nancy Binford of Wildorado, Texas, and Thena Mae Farr of Seymour, Texas, both founders and future presidents of the GRA. All of the women elected as the first GRA officers in 1948 were from Texas. They included Margaret Owens Montgomery of Ozona, president; Mary Ellen “Dude” Barton of Flomot, vice president; Katherine Pearson of Brady, secretary-treasurer; Sug Owens Bloxom of Upton County, publicity agent. Board members included Jackie Worthington of Jacksboro, bareback riding director; Maurine Harlan of McLean, bull riding director; Betty Barron Dusek of San Angelo, calf roping director; Vivian White of Ringwood, Oklahoma, saddle bronc director; Fern Sawyer of Crossroads, New Mexico, cutting horse director; Helen Barron Green of San Angelo, director of line reigning and barrel and flag racing; Blanche Altizer Smith of Del Rio, team tying and cow milking director; and Dixie Lee Reger of Woodward, Oklahoma, contract representative.
The purposes of the GRA, which was open to professional cowgirls of all ages, included the following: "To organize professional rodeo contestants. for their mutual protection and benefit.... raise the standards of cowgirl contests so they rank among the foremost American sports [and] protect members from any unfair practices on the part of rodeo management." To achieve their goals, the women established rules for all-girl rodeos and for women's contests included at rodeos sanctioned by the Rodeo Cowboys Association (now the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association; PRCA) and created a point system to determine annual world champions and prize distributions. The women worked closely with the RCA and rodeo managers, and in 1955 GRA president Jackie Worthington and RCA president Bill Linderman signed an agreement, still in effect, whereby women's events at RCA-sanctioned rodeos must be also sanctioned by the GRA. The GRA was originally governed by a board of directors. In 1990 officers included president, first vice president, secretary-treasurer, directors of ten geographic regions, and director of the WPRA All-Women's Division. The home of the president served as the association’s headquarters until 1950, when the office was moved to the Livestock Exchange Building in Fort Worth. In 1973 the headquarters moved to Blanchard, Oklahoma, hometown of then secretary-treasurer, Lydia Moore. In 1993, after the end of Jimmie Munroe’s first presidency and Moore’s twenty-two-year tenure in office, the WPRA headquarters moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the PRCA was also located.
The major functions of the organization have been to standardize the rules for women's contests and sanction all-girl rodeos. Because of the GRA, women's barrel racing became a standard contest at most major rodeos, where serious women's competitions declined during the Great Depression and virtually disappeared during World War II. While women had been allowed in competitive cowhand-skills events during the formative years of rodeo, cultural and economic shifts in the late 1920s and early 1930s pushed rodeo organizers to decrease the number of sporting events open to women and replace them with community-sponsored rodeo queen pageants that emphasized appearance and regalia as well as riding ability and relegated women to the role of promotional figurehead. Some cowgirls still competed in traditional skills-based rodeo events as “sponsor girls” for individual ranches. Notable achievements included obtaining sponsorship from several major national corporations, holding the GRA barrel-racing finals at the RCA's National Finals Rodeo, and having over 600 rodeos agree in 1980 to offer women prizes equal to those awarded men by 1985. Such early publications of the association as Powder Puff and Spurs were mimeographed, and a few copies remain. Since 1969 the monthly Women's Pro Rodeo News has been the official periodical.
Membership grew from seventy-four in 1948 to 1,800 in 1990, and total prize money increased from $29,000 to over $2 million. As of 2018, the organization had more than 3,000 members and over 1,300 events with a total payout of over $5.2 million. In 1950 members came from eleven states and Canada, with nearly 75 percent from Texas. Today members come from the entire country, and no single state has over 10 percent. In January 1991 membership was limited to women fourteen years of age or older at the time of their application. Dues and fees from participating rodeos provide most of the financing for the organization. Notable members besides the founders are Barbara Inez (Tad) Lucas of Fort Worth, one of the greatest professional cowgirls of all time; Verna “Boots Booker Hightower, noted national barrel racer and the first African American member of the GRA; Wanda Harper Bush, the most decorated cowgirl in the history of the organization as of 2017; Katherine Doehl (Dell), a musician, trick roper who rode broncos and bulls; Billie McBride of Belton, the president who initiated the move to have the barrel-racing finals included at the NFR; and Jimmie Gibbs Munroe of Valley Mills, the major force in the drive for equal pay. Munroe served as president from 1978–1993, 2011–2012, and May 2021–January 2022, the latter by special election after Doreen Wintermute retired. During her tenure, the organization was renamed the WPRA in 1982 and won a landmark lawsuit that allows it to remain an all-female association in 1990. Many members are part of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame.
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Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 8, 1949. "GRA," Western Horseman, July 1959. Houston Chronicle, March 6, 1987. Kerrville Mountain Sun, June 24, 1948. Mary Lou LeCompte, Cowgirls of the Rodeo: Pioneer Professional Athletes(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993; 2nd ed., Illini Books, 2000). Mary Lou LeCompte, "Home on the Range: Women in Professional Rodeo, 1929–1947," Journal of Sport History 17 (Winter 1990). Sue Owens, "Girls' Rodeo Association," Hoofs and Horns, May 1948.
Sports and Recreation
Texas Post World War II
Texas in the 21st Century
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Mary Lou LeCompte
Katherine Kuehler Walters,
“Women's Professional Rodeo Association,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 08, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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