Vera McGinnis: Pioneer Cowgirl
Vera McGinnis first came to my attention during a search for vintage cowgirl photos and it should come as no surprise that any photo of Vera simply stops you in your tracks. Something of her incredible personality shines through in every image and that, coupled with her innate sense of style, made it very hard to decide which photo to use as for this post. In the end I settled on two.
One is a formal portrait—I call it “Vera With Fringe and Pearls” and this is the first photograph I spotted. I’m fairly certain that no one was 'styling' Vera except Vera and given the way she combined pearls and leather, she’d be right at home in any era. McGinnis hated the split skirts worn by women performers. “Skirts were a nuisance,” she said, so she wore a pair of boy’s flannel pants in the arena and changed women’s rodeo fashions for all time.
The second photo is one that I like even more despite the fact that it’s much grittier. Taken in a working arena, you see the self-confidence that enabled her to create her own career, one that took her around the world, leading the way for other female athletes and innovators!
Vera learned to “make the best of it” during her 20 years on the rodeo circuit, often as a woman on her own. Her mother’s advice did her well: “Do your best, Vera. If you win, be gracious, if you lose be gracious…Getting to strut your stuff is what really counts.”
Vera wrote her memoir—Rodeo Road: My life as a Pioneer Cowgirl— in 1974. It’s currently out of print, but boy I’d love to find a copy!
Janna Bommersbach wrote a fantastic piece on Vera for Cowgirl Magazine in 2018 and I highly recommend it. It's full of action photos from Vera's career including trick riding and riding broncs! I've added a link to that post at the bottom of this post.
“Vera McGinnis began this incredible journey at a time when women didn’t even wear pants around the house; when they wouldn’t be seen in public without their corset; when they didn’t have the right to vote and couldn’t serve on juries. It was a time when professional opportunities for women were greatly limited: the few working outside the home made barely half as much as men. It was a time of strict codes and taboos, when women who displayed “masculine tastes”—like competing in men’s sports —were considered “sexual inverts.” And yet, Vera and her fellow buckaroos overcame all those restrictions and stereotypes to make their way in the rough and wild world of rodeos. As she began her career, over 200 women earned a living in rodeos or Wild West shows—about the best paying job open to women.”