It was as performers in wild west shows and rodeos that the popular image of the cowgirl may be most clearly seen. As the first significant group of female professional athletes in the nation, they were less restrained by Victorian middle-class notions of proper female behavior. They achieved financial success and international acclaim prior long before female athletes were widely accepted by the public. Further, they competed equally with men in bronc riding, and were the product of a culture where athleticism, skill, competitiveness, and grit were acceptable traits for women. Many had learned their skills growing up on ranches where good horsemanship was a necessity. The women who became rodeo stars were skilled riders, thrilling the crowds that came to see them perform dangerous stunts wearing little in the way of protective clothing. This lecture will consider portrayals of cowgirls by artists, as well as in popular culture, including the western pulps, and provide valuable historical context to the upcoming Cowgirl Up! exhibition.
Speaker: Betsy Fahlman, PhD at ASU