Patricia McCormick, 83, the first American woman to become a professional bullfighter in Mexico, has died in a nursing home in Del Rio, Texas. She never married nor had children. McCormick is credited with “blazing a trail for gender equality” during her ten years in the ring, but it appears few American women chose her as a role model.
McCormick said she was introduced to bullfighting as a 7-year-old during a family vacation to Mexico City. When she was 13, her family moved to West Texas from St. Louis, Missouri, and she began crossing the border into Juárez to watch fights. She was so entranced by bullfighting that she later quit college and persuaded a retired matador to become her mentor.
McCormick debuted in the bullring in 1951 in Juárez, and twice the bull trampled her and tossed her with its horns before she plunged the estoque between its shoulders and killed it. She was showered with roses by the crowd and awarded the bull’s ear for her "bravery and skills." She then knelt down and stroked its head, and later wrote in her memoir, Lady Bullfighter, “I loved the brave bull.’
She insisted on fighting large bulls on foot, rather than horseback, and was seriously gored six times in the ring. In 1954 she nearly died after a bull caught her on the thigh. ‘The horn went right up my stomach,’ she told The Los Angeles Times in 1989. ‘The bull carried me around the ring for a minute, impaled on his horns.’
Over the next decade Patricia McCormick became popular with bullfight afficianados and received top billing in hundreds of bullfights from Mexico to South America. However, while she was admired by her rival male counterparts and called by one bullfighting critic, “the most courageous woman I have ever seen,” she remained a novillera—apprentice fighter.
In order to rise in professional stature, she needed a matador to sponsor her, and none was willing to do that for a female. ‘Had she not been born a woman,’ one of Mexico’s elite matadors told Sports Illustrated in 1963, ‘she might have been better than any of us.’
McCormick quit bullfighting in 1962 and moved to California, where she worked as a secretary. She reportedly returned to Texas in the early 2000’s because of money problems and died impoverished and alone in the Texas nursing home on March 26, 2013.
Animal activists insist that the term “bullfighting” is a misnomer for a “blood sport” in which a bull is stabbed before the event begins with a lance behind the mound of muscle on the animal’s neck, weakening the neck muscles and starting blood loss. The object is to cause weakness and pain so the bull lowers its head, and it is easier for the matador to avoid injury and to kill the animal at the end of a gory event in which there was no real competition.