A Look Back: The Famous Hardin-Simmons Cowgirls
(ABILENE, Texas)—Current students of Hardin-Simmons University are familiar with the HSU cheer team and Spurs dance team who lead the student body in supporting the school’s athletic teams, yet few know the colorful history of the university’s original pep squad. The HSU Cowgirls, founded by Miss Willie Ray McDonald in 1925, promoted school spirit and entertained masses across the Big Country for 49 years. Though the club is no longer active on campus, its legacy and lasting impact still affect HSU today.
Famous for its vivacity, faithfulness, and grace, the Cowgirls social club brought entertainment to athletics halftime performances until the mid-1970s. Initially called the pep squad in 1925, the club adopted the name, the Cowgirls, in 1926.
The charter class included 30 ladies, but the club quickly grew to meet its 50-member cap by the mid-1930s. By 1940, the club had adopted four more members in hopes of expanding to a 60-member maximum by Fall 1942.
Membership in the organization was by invitation only. At the start of each year, the Cowgirls hosted a tea for prospective members. After bonding with attendees, members would vote on which girls they would invite to join the team. After receiving bids, or invitations to pledge the club, potential members would undergo a short pledging process before being inducted just before the Christmas holiday.
Perhaps the Cowgirls’ most significant roles on campus were maintaining the student body’s school spirit during sporting events and motivating the university’s athletes. The group performed cheers, rope tricks, and their traditional Cowgirl Stomp for crowds of doting fans.
The Cowgirls didn’t just perform at sporting events, however. Cowgirls often served as ushers and hostesses at functions around Abilene and participated in community service projects around the Big Country. In 1937, the Cowgirls represented HSU at the Sun Bowl game in El Paso. To raise the necessary funds for the trip, the ladies hosted the first annual Cowgirl Carnival. In 1938, they traveled to Hawaii to perform and enjoy each other’s company away from the bustle of college life.
The 1943 edition of HSU’s yearbook, the Bronco, explains, “The history of the Cowgirls is, like the West itself, full of glamour, but is now beginning its era of real usefulness not only to its Alma Mater, but to humanity at large.”
During the 1942-‘43 season, the Cowgirls made time for several patriotic programs. They collected supplies for the Red Cross, stitched stars on American flags, and donated nylon and silk for the World War II war effort. The club also served as ushers when famous big band musician Horace Heidt and renowned comedian Bob Hope performed in Abilene in 1952.
The Cowgirls’ purple and gold uniforms distinguished the group and made them easily recognizable. Their first uniforms consisted of brown English-style riding boots, purple corduroy skirts, gold satin blouses, and purple satin scarfs. Members also wore traditional western accessories, including leather belts and cuffs, wide-brimmed hats, and spurs.
In 1935, the Cowgirls voted to switch to western-style cowboy boots. In the mid-1940s, their uniforms changed to include a gold dress. Then, in the late-1950s, the outfit changed to include a purple shirt and skirt, a gold scarf, white boots, and a white hat.
The program sadly ended in 1974, but surviving members still perform their famous Cowgirl Stomp at STAMPEDE, HSU’s new student orientation, each year, and participate in an annual homecoming tea. The club’s values, pep, and high moral character will continue to be an important part of HSU’s legacy for generations.