Matadora of Missouri leaves the bullring for the last time

 

If it can take the horn of a bull to break a glass ceiling then that was surely the singular achievement of Patricia McCormick, a Missouri-born American who in the early 1950s became the world’s first professional female bullfighter, drawing legions of fans and the attentions of Time, Sports Illustrated and Look magazines.

McCormick, who died in a nursing home in Texas late last month aged 83, first fell in love with the ring during a holiday to Mexico City when she was just seven. Years later, while studying in El Paso, Texas, she regularly crossed the border to Ciudad Juarez, where she trained and found a sponsor. It was an unlikely quest in a sport so laden with macho traditions – but, against her parents’ wishes, she persevered and made her debut in Juarez in 1951.

Thus was launched a career as a matadora that spanned 10 years and hundreds of bullfights, most of them in Mexico and some in Venezuela. The response from  the male fighters, who never allowed her to take the initiation ceremony that would have made her into a fully fledged matadora on equal terms, veered from admiration to condescension.

“She fights larger bulls than does any other woman… and she kills well,” Carlos Arruza, the Mexican torero, once said of her. “Her only defect is that she is a woman.” Rafael Solana, a bullfighting critic, once said she was the “most courageous woman I have ever seen”.

The first woman to be given equal billing as the men in Mexican fights and to be allowed to fight, like them, on her feet and not on a horse, McCormick was not ungrazed when she retired and moved to California in the early Sixties. By then, she had been gored six times, most seriously in 1954 in Ciudad Acuña when she turned her back on a bull which then charged and skewered her. A priest gave her the last rites. “The horn went right up my stomach,” she told the Los Angeles Times years later. “The bull carried me around the ring for a minute, impaled on his horns.”

Two years after her retirement, Sports Illustrated argued that McCormick “may well be the greatest woman bullfighter who ever lived”. But her celebrity faded quickly and she stayed in California for decades, painting watercolours and working as a secretary. In the early 2000s, she moved back to Texas, where some flickers of her old life were rekindled, thanks in part to a 2007 documentary film about her, The Texas Torera.

That she was never fully welcomed into the male ranks of the sport, or allowed to join them in wearing a sparkling suit in the ring, did little to spoil her memories of her years of stardom. “It would have become a vicious circle in the end,” she once said. “For once I became a full-fledged matadora de toros, the recognised matadores would have refused to appear with me. I couldn’t win for losing!”

She had, of course, also opened a door for other women to compete. “She was of an era that was very, very difficult for women,” Honey Anne Haskin, a retired bullfighter herself also known as Ana de Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times for its obituary published  yesterday. “There were other women who were very, very good, but the one everyone talked about with respect and admiration was Patricia McCormick.”

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup