Statue of Kansas aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart unveiled at U.S. Capitol

By: - July 27, 2022 11:45 am
Congressional leaders, the Kansas Congressional delegation and Gov. Laura Kelly celebrate the unveiling of the Amelia Earhart statue during a ceremony Wednesday in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from U.S. House live video)

Congressional leaders, the Kansas Congressional delegation and Gov. Laura Kelly celebrate the unveiling of the Amelia Earhart statue during a ceremony Wednesday in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from U.S. House live video)

TOPEKA — Kansas officials and congressional leaders celebrated the unveiling Wednesday of a statue of aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart in the U.S. Capitol.

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, from the 3rd District, said Earhart is best known as the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean, but she was also a military nurse, social worker, author, “and a woman who really was breaking the glass ceiling on a field that was dominated by men at the time.”

“You know,” Davids said, “female pilots used to be called ‘ladybirds,’ ‘sweethearts of the air,’ and because of Amelia Earhart, back then, now and into the future, women who fly planes are now called ‘pilots.’ ”

Earhart, who disappeared in 1937, five years after her iconic transatlantic flight, “has landed in Washington, D.C.,” Davids said.

Each state gets to select two individuals to be represented in the National Statuary Hall Collection. Earhart joined Dwight D. Eisenhower, the former president and supreme allied commander of troops in World War II, as Kansas icons in the collection.

Earhart was born and raised in Atchison, a small town in northeast Kansas that overlooks the Missouri River. She became one of the world’s most celebrated aviators, and a champion for the advancement of women in aviation.

“From a very early age, Amelia was a dreamer,” said Gov. Laura Kelly. “Her dreams went far beyond the banks of that river and far beyond the prescribed gender roles of her time.”

Gov. Laura Kelly says the new Amelia Earhart statue in the U.S. Capitol will be an inspiration for all, and particularly young girls, for years to come. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from U.S. House live video)
Gov. Laura Kelly says the new Amelia Earhart statue in the U.S. Capitol will be an inspiration for all, and particularly young girls, for years to come. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from U.S. House live video)

The governor said Kansans have long celebrated women trailblazers, including Susanna Madora Salter, who in 1887 in Argonia became the first woman elected to serve as mayor in the United States, before women had the right to vote; Georgia Neese Clark Gray, the first woman to serve as U.S. treasurer, a position she held during the Truman administration; and Lucinda Todd, a Topeka educator “who actually lit the flame that resulted” in the 1954 Brown v. Board decision, which desegregated public schools.

“So it is fitting today, we’re dedicating a statue in honor of one of the most notable of our pioneering women,” Kelly said. “Let it be an inspiration for all, particularly our young girls, for generations to come. Let them stare up at this work of art and think that they, like Amelia, can dream the impossible dream, that they can beat the unbeatable foe, that they will run where the brave dare not go, that they will have the power to right the unrightable wrong, and that they will reach their unreachable star.”

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran described the “statue of a determined young woman with short cut hair, a curious smile, a bomber hat in hand and a sunflower on her belt buckle.” He said the bronze figure will encourage boys and girls from other small towns to dream big and work hard to achieve those dreams.

The statue rests on limestone from the Flint Hills of Kansas and will be viewed by 2-3 million visitors from around the world each year, Moran said.

U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, who delivered an invocation at the unveiling of the statue, said Earhart is an example of God “using someone that no one at the time would have expected to change the world, to not only inspire generations of women but all people everywhere.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Earhart “an American who personifies the daring and determined spirit of our nation.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said “in every sense, she occupied rarefied air.”

Pelosi quoted from a 1935 radio broadcast by Earhart, titled, “A Woman’s Place is in Science.” In her speech, Earhart praised the emerging opportunities for women for employment in the aviation industry.

“I hope this movement will spread throughout all branches of applied science and industry and that women may come to share with men the joy of doing,” Earhart said.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the 2021 and 2022 Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He is a lifelong Kansan.

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