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With ample dynamic photos and lively quotes throughout, George-Warren presents a thoroughly absorbing overview of the history of cowgirls up to the present. She explains that since women did much of the ranch work in the past out of necessity, they helped to break down social and economic inequalities, and Western states often led the way in passing laws such as the right of women to vote and to own land. Famous figures such as Belle Starr, Calamity Jane, and Annie Oakley are discussed in brief, but the real delights here are the anecdotes on lesser-known figures such as Lucille Mulhall, the first woman to be dubbed a “cowgirl” in print. By age 11, she could rope animals including steers, jackrabbits, and wolves. The introduction of women as rodeo and trick riders and their contributions to the sports in the 1920s and ’30s are covered in fascinating detail, as are the film and singing sensations of the 1940s and ’50s such as Barbara Stanwyck and Dale Evans. The book also provides an overview of fashion and a look at today’s cowgirls. Similar in scope to Candace Savage’s Born to Be a Cowgirl (Tricycle, 2001) but providing more information on women from the past 50 years, this is a fine addition.
–Madeline J. Bryant, Los Angeles Public Library, School Library Journal, July 2010

For 170 years, women have been riding the range, breaking horses, rounding up cattle, and doing the same work men did on Western ranches. Since the early 1900s they've also performed as rodeo riders, bulldoggers, singers, and movie stars. Author George-Warren opens her celebration of their work with a description of the lives of women in the Old West, using quotations from their writings that demonstrate their appreciation for their world: the natural surroundings, the exhilaration of the ride, and their relative freedom. In topically organized chapters, she covers the outlaws, show girls, rodeo stars, singers and actresses, and even image makers who designed and made cowgirl clothing and boots. Some names are well known-Calamity Jane, Annie Oakley, Dale Evans-but most will be unfamiliar. The author concludes with an overview of the twenty-first-century cowgirl world of ranchers, riding teachers, rodeo performers, and the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Augmented with archival images, photographs, posters, even postcards (color not seen), the book design incorporates prints that underlie chapter-opening text and some recurring symbolic images. For horse-loving girls, this unique title meets a need they may not have known they had and might spur them on to cowgirl careers of their own.
– KATHLEEN T. ISAACS, Horn Book, July 2010

There are plenty of books about cowboys. Now it’s the ladies’ turn. George-Warren, who has written about country singers and rock ’n’ roll artists, turns her attention to women who took the bull by the horns (in some cases literally) and proved themselves equal to any man. Starting with pioneer women, who had to adapt to their new surroundings to survive, the book organizes itself around various kinds of cowgirls, stretching the concept to make way for outlaws like Belle Starr, leader of her own crime gang, and Wild West show girls, including sharpshooter Annie Oakley. Rodeo stars past and present are introduced as well as screen cowgirls, including Dale Evans. The book is so exhaustive, in fact, it gets a little exhausting. With all the fascinating stories, it might have been better to go for depth rather than breadth. That said, this offers a refreshing slant on the West and its women. Best of all are the many, many wonderfully reproduced photographs, posters, and even paper dolls that chronicle the history in this handsomely designed book.
— Ilene Cooper, Booklist Aug. 1, 2010

Cowgirl spunk: from Annie Oakley to Lady Gaga
BookPage Web exclusive, July 2010
Interview by Katherine Cochran

Girls with gumption and a "can do" spirit will get a big kick out of Holly George-Warren’s The Cowgirl Way, which provides a fascinating history of the Wild West and cowgirls, from big names like Annie Oakley to lesser-known gals of the 21st century.

Chapters are interspersed with photos, quotes and memorabilia that nicely complement the text. And though the book's target audience is tweens (ages 10 and up), teens and adults will also enjoy George-Warren’s meticulously researched history of American cowgirls.

The author has long been interested in the Wild West culture. Read on for her take on rodeo fever, pursuing dreams—and why Lady Gaga embodies the cowgirl spirit.

You have written several books on cowgirls, cowboys and the Wild West. What sparked your interest in this culture?
As a girl growing up in North Carolina in the ‘60s, I became fascinated by cowgirls and cowboys and the West. My family used to stop at a tourist attraction called the Buffalo Ranch, which displayed Western artifacts, and real live buffalo grazed in a cow pasture. Plus I really liked watching Westerns on TV and reading biographies of historical figures from the Old West.

Your book begins with a quote from Connie Douglas Reeves: “Always saddle your own horse!” This quote has also been adopted as the motto for the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. What does this line say about cowgirls? Why is it important?
That mandate emphasizes self-sufficiency and independence, and it epitomizes the “can do” spirit of cowgirls. That’s a great lesson for all of us.

What can young readers of The Cowgirl Way learn from cowgirls of the past?
Women in the West had to overcome numerous obstacles to pursue their dreams. They had to break down barriers that prevented women from participating fully in American life. By learning about the courage and tenacity of these Western women, hopefully it will inspire [young readers] to overcome challenges in their own lives.

You quote Florence Hughes Randolph as saying, “I had the rodeo fever, so I left Hollywood and went back to Texas.” Why do you think the cowgirl lifestyle appealed to young women in the early 20th century?
During that time, not many women could work and/or travel independently, and becoming a rodeo cowgirl opened up their options. It also gave women a chance to prove themselves in a traditionally male arena. And as America became more urbanized, ranch life signified freedom and wide-open spaces.

Who is your favorite cowgirl from history? Why?
It’s a tie between Annie Oakley and Lucille Mulhall. Each worked hard to reach the top in an area where women had been shut out, and they opened doors for other women. They were smart, charismatic and courageous, and they got to travel the world and live adventurous lives.

You mention that former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor used to be a cowgirl. Which other public figures embody the cowgirl “spunk, adventurousness and courage”?
Our First Lady Michelle Obama, filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and documentarian Barbara Kopple, Mississippi teenager Constance McMillen and Lady Gaga, just to name a few . . .

What kind of cowgirl would you like to be? A pioneer? An outlaw? Rodeo star? Show girl for Buffalo Bill?
I would have enjoyed being a singing cowgirl like Dale Evans and Patsy Montana, or a ranch woman and photojournalist like Evelyn Cameron.

What is your next project?
I’m writing a biography of the late Alex Chilton, who first found fame as the 16-year-old lead singer of the Box Tops in 1967 and went on to form the influential band Big Star before embarking on a solo career.