Pioneer Woman

What image does the phrase “pioneer woman,” evoke for you?

That was the question posed in 1926 by E. W. Marland, a wealthy oil guy in Oklahoma, when he hired seventeen prominent sculptors to create three-foot statues depicting a quintessential Pioneer Woman settling the American West. From those, a winning design would be chosen and a large-scale statue commissioned.

The only two women artists on Marland’s list declined the invitation, and three of the male artists did as well. Marland suggested to the twelve sculptors who did participate that each woman wear a sunbonnet, and that the statue include a child.

Once the artists completed their work, Marland  arranged for a twelve-city tour of the models. Citizens viewed the choices and voted for their favorite.

Here are the twelve. Bearing in mind that all were created by white men in the 1920s… which would you have voted for?

Adventurous

Adventurous, by F. Lynn Jenkins

Faithful

Faithful, by Arthur Lee

Heroic

Heroic, by Mario Korbel

Self Reliant

Self Reliant, by Alexander Stirling Calder

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Self Reliant detail

Determined

Determined, by Maurice Sterne

Pioneer woman

Confident, by Bryant Baker

Confident - detail

Confident – detail

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Trusting, by Jo Davidson

Challenging

Challenging, by Herman A. MacNeil

Challenging - detail

Challenging – detail

Affectionate

Affectionate, by James E. Fraser

Protective Pioneer Woman

Protective, by John Gregory

Protective - detail

Protective – detail

Sturdy

Sturdy, by Mahonri Young

Fearless

Fearless, by Wheeler Williams

Marland made clear that he had the right to choose the ultimate winner, and his favorite was evidently Trusting. (It’s not clear to me if the names/attributes were given to the sculptors from the beginning, or applied after the models were complete.) However, the voting public chose Confident by a wide margin. Marland graciously bowed to popular sentiment.
In 1930, Baker’s 27-foot bronze statue was unveiled in Ponca City, Oklahoma.  It was dedicated to all pioneer women of the United States: “In appreciation of the heroic character of the women who braved the dangers and endured the hardships incident to daily life of the pioneer and homesteader in this country.”
Forty thousand people came to the tribute to Oklahoma’s pioneers, which included a speech by Will Rogers.
Pioneer statue unveiling
Today the statue still stands to remind all passersby of the role Euro-Yankee women played in Western history.
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Pioneer Woman
I think the voting public chose well.
The statue can be seen at the Pioneer Woman Museum in Ponca City, Oklahoma.  Copies of the original models, shown in the photos above, are on display at the nearby Marland Mansion and Estate.

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8 Responses to “Pioneer Woman”

  1. Labyrinth-Living Says:

    I picked Confident before I saw your answer. What a marvelous piece of work!

  2. elainewebster100 Says:

    Fearless is my choice. Trusting is my least favorite. Confident is a good balance between the two.

  3. nancyloswald Says:

    These were all fantastic, although some spoke to me more than others. I think it’s true there was a bold confidence that went along with many of the women pioneers, but I also think some of it is glamorized. It couldn’t have been easy and my guess is many pioneer women were thin and frail, overwhelmed and undernourished. Survival ruled the day.

  4. Kathleen Ernst Says:

    I like Confident best, but I also like Sturdy, perhaps because—as Nancy said—not all women strode west with such confidence. I’m not sure what to make of Trusting; the woman portrayed doesn’t look trusting to me, more as if she’s peering uncertainly toward the future.

  5. marabird Says:

    I like Faithful the best!

  6. qnpoohbear Says:

    I wouldn’t vote for any. They’re all stereotypes that don’t reflect the reality of women in the West.

  7. Marie Tschopp Says:

    I agree with you, Kathleen. My 2 favorites were Confident and Sturdy. :)

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