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WOMEN'S PROFESSIONAL RODEO ASSOCIATION
Josephine Willis at the Girls Rodeo Association Rodeo at Fort Stockton (1949). Courtesy of Life Magazine.
WOMEN'S PROFESSIONAL RODEO ASSOCIATION. The Girls Rodeo Association, now the Women's Professional Rodeo Association, was formed on February 28, 1948, by twenty-three women who met for that purpose at the San Angelus hotel in San Angelo, Texas. These women had previously discussed the idea for the organization during a historic all-girl rodeo produced at Amarillo in September 1947 by Nancy Binford of Wildorado and Thena Mae Farr of Seymour, both founders and future presidents of the GRA. Texas women elected to office included Margaret Owens Montgomery of Ozona, president; Mary Ellen Barton of Flomot, vice president; and Jackie Worthington of Jacksboro and Blanche Altizer Smith of Del Rio, board members. 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 these 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). 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 GRA-sanctioned. The GRA was originally governed by a board of directors that included the above officers, secretary-treasurer, and directors of the eight sanctioned contests. 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 headquarters until 1950, when the office was moved to the Livestock Exchange Building in Fort Worth. Since 1973 the headquarters have been in Blanchard, Oklahoma, hometown of secretary-treasurer Lydia Moore. 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 has become a standard contest at most major rodeos, where women's competition had virtually disappeared during World War II. Notable recent achievements include 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. Membership has grown from seventy-four in 1948 to 1,800 in 1990, and total prize money has increased from $29,000 to over $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. Effective January 1991, membership is 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; 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, president from 1978 and the major force in the drive for equal pay. 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. The organization was renamed the WPRA in 1982, and in 1990 it won a landmark lawsuit that allows it to remain an all-female association. The WPRA is the oldest organization of female professional athletes in America and the only one controlled and managed entirely by women. See also RODEOS.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 8, 1949. "GRA," Western Horseman, July 1959. Houston Chronicle, March 6, 1987. 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.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Mary Lou LeCompte, "Women's Professional Rodeo Association," accessed April 19, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xnw01.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on February 28, 2018. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.