Pioneer Woman

This article is about the statue. For other uses, see Pioneer Woman (disambiguation).
Pioneer Woman
Artist Bryant Baker
Year 1930 (1930)
Type Bronze statue

Ponca City, Oklahoma

Pioneer Woman Statue
Coordinates 36°42′36″N 97°3′55″W / 36.71000°N 97.06528°W / 36.71000; -97.06528Coordinates: 36°42′36″N 97°3′55″W / 36.71000°N 97.06528°W / 36.71000; -97.06528
NRHP Reference # 78002238[1]
Added to NRHP August 31, 1978

The Pioneer Woman monument is a bronze sculpture in Ponca City, Oklahoma, designed by Bryant Baker and dedicated on April 22, 1930. The statue is of a sunbonneted woman leading a child by the hand. It was donated to the State of Oklahoma by millionaire oilman E. W. Marland. He commissioned models from twelve well-known sculptors and financed a nationwide tour to get feedback from art critics and the general public in order to decide which model to use for the final statue.

Design and construction

Around 1925 Marland sketched out an ambitious sculptural program to sculptor Jo Davidson involving numerous statues based on the theme of the settling of the American West and attempted to persuade Davidson to take it on. When Davidson declined Marland replies that he could pay for it, prompting Davidson to come back with "I don't doubt it for a minute, but I don't see myself working for you for the rest of my life." Marland ultimately convinced Davidson to go to Ponca City, Marland's then home town, and create three statues for him: one of Marland and one of each of Marland's adopted children, Lydie and George.

While Davidson was producing his three Marland statues E.W. told him of another project that he has in mind, "E.W.'s most cherished dream." Davidson writes, " It was to be a twenty-five foot figure, which he planned to put up on a hill where it could be seen for miles ... E.W. brought his friends to see what I was doing. He acted as if he was the sculptor, and in conversation would say that he was doing the figure - that I was his hands."[2]

Marland's inspiration for this project included his pioneering mother and grandmother.[3]

The models

At that point Marland sent out invitations to many of America's leading sculptors, offering them each a $10,000 honorarium to produce a roughly 3 feet (0.9 m) tall bronze model for the statue.[4][5] He further proposed that the models tour the United States and that the American public vote as to which of the models would be erected in Ponca City. Several sculptors, Daniel Chester French, George Grey Barnard and Paul Manship turned Marland down, also declining were the only two women invited, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and Anna Hyatt Huntington,[6] leaving him with an even dozen artists, all males. The artists who submitted models were Bryant Baker, A, Stirling Calder, Jo Davidson, James Earle Fraser, John Gregory, F. Lynn Jenkins, Mario Korbel, Arthur Lee, Hermon Atkins MacNeil, Maurice Sterne, Mahonri Young, and Wheeler Williams.[4] The models were to tour America and everyone who visited the sites where they were exhibited was allowed to vote for their favorite.[7]

Marland's original idea was to have a woman in pioneer dress accompanied by a child, and so he provided a sunbonnet to each sculptor. While the artists were not limited to these ideas, nine of the twelve models included a sunbonnet and all save for Jo Davidson's included a child.[8][9] Both Davidson and Calder visited Oklahoma to gain further inspiration.[9]

Mahonri Young's biographer Thomas Toone relates that Young produced not only the required three foot tall statuette, but also a plaster version of the entire Pioneer Memorial as he envisioned it, replete with detailed bas-reliefs of western scenes around the base of a massive pedestal and platform, on top of which the pioneer woman "holds her child in the embrace of a Renaissance Madonna."[10] A pair of spirited bison guard the stairs leading up the base. The voting public was not privy to Young's vision and his work showed poorly in the balloting. Young, who described not winning the competition as the worst disappointment in his career, did manage to get some of his ideas out in later works.

Toone also adds that the winning sculptor, Baker Bryant used, "a professional actress as his model, which produced a glamourous figure, representing Western myth more than reality."[11]

There are some questions raised about the winning design by Donald De Lue, at that time Baker Bryant's assistant. De Lue's biographer, D. Roger Howlett makes several points about the Pioneer Woman statue.

Wheeler Williams model, enlarged and cast in Liberty, Kansas

"it was especially on the "Pioneer Woman" that De Lue manifest his talent. . . .... Baker claimed that the conception and movement of the final monument was developed in an eight-to-ten inch sketch model made by him a few hours after he learned about the competition. De Lue executed the thirty-three inch competition model for the sculpture in 1927, with Baker supervising and completing the face."[12] Baker was also the last sculptor to enter the contest having only one month to prepare his model.[9]

James Earle Fraser based his almost Impressionistic statue on his favorite aunt, Dora, who was herself a pioneer woman. This model is unique among the ones submitted to the competition, and perhaps in the entire world of Pioneer Women Statues, in that the woman, caught breast feeding her child, exposes a bare breast. No stranger to multi-tasking, she still manages to hold on to her rifle while feeding the baby.[13]

Many years after the competition Wheeler Williams' model was re-discovered, enlarged, cast, and now sits in front of the public library in Liberty, Kansas.

The tour

The submitted bronze models were unveiled at the Reinhardt Galleries in New York on February 26, 1927 where they remained in exhibition until March 19.[4] At a dinner for the twelve finalists the evening before the models were revealed to the public, Marland announced:

Pictures have we in plenty of the stern Pilgrim Fathers and the gallant gentlemen of the friendlier Virginia soil, but we are forced to draw on our imagination somewhat for pictures of the mothers. When these women started West all their earthly possessions could be packed on a horse or in a wagon. What sturdy broods they bore, ever pushing westward, ever making homes on the lands their husbands gained.

The toll of life resulting from their hardships left millions of unmarked graves across this continent, graves of women who dies that we might live and love this homeland.[8]

Marland reserved the right to make the final choice for the monument, but he sought input from the public and so these models then began a tour of museums and art galleries across the nation.[8][14] From its opening at the Reinhardt Galleries, the tour moved on. Stops included Boston, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Detroit, Indianapolis, Chicago, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, and Ponca City.[15] At each location visitors were invited to vote for their three favorite models.[9] In all over 750,000 people viewed the models and over 120,000 votes were placed.[15][16]

The models were the subject of much discussion at the time, and photographs of them were included in full-page pictorials of both the New York Times and the LA Times.[17][18] Art critics discussed the merits of one model over another and almost universally lambasting the sunbonnets as "terrible headwear". The models were even the subject of writing assignments for elementary school art classes.[19]

The L.A. Times reported that art critic Helen Appleton Read felt that "no adequate tribute had been paid to the pioneer woman" and that "most of the competitors failed to produce anything monumental".[20]

On December 20, 1927, E. W. Marland's son George announced that Bryant Baker's model was selected as the winner. Baker's model received the most votes in 11 cities and Gregory's was the second most popular, being the favorite in three cities.[16]

When the tour of the models was over, Baker's Pioneer Woman had won first place, out-balloting John Gregory's effort 42,478 to 37,782. "De Lue set to work in 1928 and 1929, modeling it in Baker's Brooklyn studio, working with Jean La Seure, the enlarger. De Lue later remembered: "One day Bryant decided he would work on it, and did some work. I said, 'Look, Bryant, if I were you I'd get the hell out of here, because you're not helping at all,' He said, 'Thank you very much.' and he went."[21]

Fundraising and construction

The cost of the Pioneer Woman project was approximately $350,000.[8][14] This included a $10,000 honorarium for each of the twelve finalists plus $100,000 for the winner Bryant Baker.[5][22] The remainder of the costs were accrued during the tour around the country and arranging the base for the statue. While the vast majority of the project was funded by Marland, his fortunes were on the decline at this time and so he was forced to seek additional funding to complete the project. Some private fundraising helped to defray the final costs and $25,000 was supplied by Lew Wentz, Marland's long-time business rival as well as fellow philanthropist of Ponca City.

Marland had purchased 2,000 acres on which to place the statue.[8] The area where the statue was erected stands just off of U.S. Route 77, a mile northeast of the center of Ponca City.[23]

Baker said the work took years off of his life and he was afraid he would die before completion.


The Pioneer Woman statue and base.

On April 16, 1930 it was announced that the statue would be unveiled on April 22, 1930 on the 41st anniversary of the Land Run of 1889 which opened the Oklahoma Territory to settlers. The day was declared a state holiday[24] by the governor and the celebration in Ponca City included a parade, 19-gun salute. An estimated 40,000 people attended the unveiling.[25]

The dedication itself began at 1:30 pm central time with a nationwide radio address on WJZ by United States President Herbert Hoover broadcasting from the White House.[26] He introduced the native Oklahoman, Secretary of War Patrick J. Hurley who had intended to attend the unveiling in person before his visit was curtailed by illness and so spoke from his home.[27] After the first half-hour the broadcast continued from Ponca City. Other speakers during the 90 minute broadcast were Marland, Baker, Episcopal Bishop of Oklahoma Thomas Casady, Oklahoma Governor William J. Holloway, and Oklahoma humorist, Will Rogers, who closed the unveiling ceremonies.[23][28][29]

Mr. Chairman and fellow-citizens gathered at Ponca City:

It is a pleasure both to address a great audience gathered to do honor to the pioneer woman and to support my friend, the Secretary of War, who, to your and my misfortune, cannot yet leave his room from recent illness, from which happily he is on the road to recover.

There are few men of the West of my generation who did not know the pioneer woman in his own mother, and who does not rejoice to know that her part in building that great civilization is to have such beautiful recognition.

It was those women who carried the refinement, the moral character and spiritual force into the West. Not only they bore great burdens of daily toil and the rearing of families, but they were intent that their children should have a chance, that the doors of opportunity should be open to them. It was their insistence which made the schools and the churches.

But it is my duty to introduce a product of the pioneer woman of Oklahoma, who has risen high in the councils of the nation—and high in the esteem of the whole country—the Secretary of War, Patrick J. Hurley.[23]

 Herbert Hoover
In the erection of this monument, we pledge a reverence to the woman who has laid the foundation of the character of our community, State and nation. This tribute to her memory will keep the fundamental principles of her character constantly before the people of Oklahoma. Every citizen who passes this way and looks upon this memorial will be strengthened in the conviction that this State shall be kept worthy of the woman whom this bronze statue commemorates.


Woman has never been given her just place in history as a pioneer, an educator, a builder, or as a leader. This is probably due to the fact that most of the pages of history are written by men about men.

Historians have been so busy with the lives of great sons that they have not stopped to immortalize the mothers who produced them. The characters of men are molded by women. We have reached that period in civilization where we are fair enough to accord to woman the honor of the pre-eminent part she has taken in shaping the destinies of mankind.

The woman has held the objectives gained by the man. She has been the bulwark ever standing between civilization and barbarism. The pioneer woman has played her part in the conquest of nature through all the ages.

We cannot evaluate her character without any appreciation of her intelligence. Here was an intelligence that quickly and clearly recognized that the three great pillars of democratic government are religion, education and the home. She trusted in God and was a firm believer in the efficacy of prayer.[23]

 Patrick J. Hurley

History since dedication

The area surrounding the statue has been designated as Pioneer Woman State Park.

image of the statue used on a tee-shirt

The Pioneer Woman Museum

On September 16, 1958, the 65th anniversary of the opening of the Cherokee Outlet which included the land of Ponca City, the state opened the Pioneer Woman Museum, on land adjacent to the monument.[30] An image of the Pioneer Woman statue serves as the de facto logo of the museum.

Access and attributes

Location and visiting

The statue resides on a 5.5 acres (0.022 km2) park.

Physical characteristics

The bronze statue itself stands 17 feet (5.2 m) tall and weighs 12,000 pounds (5,400 kg). It stands on a pyramidal stepped base of granite blocks which brings the total height of the monument to 40 feet (12 m).[24]

The statue faces to the southwest, symbolising that the majority of the settlers had come from the northeast.

There is a plaque on the first step beneath the statue which reads:

this monument was erected by e. w. marland in appreciation
of the heroic character of the woman who braved the
dangers and endured the hardships incident to the daily
life of the pioneer and homesteader in this country
Image used on cook book cover.


The image of the Pioneer Woman has long been a symbol of Ponca City.

In 1941 as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations the General Federation of Women's Clubs presented gold and bronze medals with a bas-relief of the Pioneer Woman to prominent and long-standing members.[31]

The statue is also the official emblem of the four-state Ozark Frontier Trail.[32][33]

When the State Quarter for Oklahoma was to be issued in 2008, there was a statewide call for proposals to be sent to the Mint for final design work. From the thousands of designs received, five were sent along to the mint. Four of the five submitted designs included the Pioneer Woman. When the professional designs returned from the mint in order for the people of Oklahoma to decide on the final design by voting amongst them, none of the designs included the book which is held under the Pioneer Woman's arm. As this book is often thought to be a Bible,[14][23] this was viewed as an attempt at censorship by the government and caused a statewide controversy. Eventually the fifth design was selected.

That the book was intended to be the Bible was made clear by Baker in an interview in which he stated, "In trying to symbolize the Pioneer Woman of America I wanted to depict Courage and Faith... The Bible was a vital factor in building up this country, and it often was the one indispensable book, recording the facts of the family life, of births, marriages and death and often the only reading material available for mothers to teach their children to read and write in those days."[34]

Derivative works

There have been several notable works of sculpture proposed or produced in the years following the unveiling of the Pioneer Woman based on it. The first one was the Kansas Pioneer Woman Memorial. A competition by the Pioneer Women's Memorial association[35] was held and, as in the competition for the Ponca City statue, Bryant Baker was the winner. A Kansas critic at the time pointed out, "There is a striking similarity in the appearance of the two works despite many actual differences."[36] However this version of a Kansas monument was never completed. In 1937 the Pioneer Women's Memorial association presided over the unveiling of the Kansas Pioneer Memorial by Kansas born sculptor Merrell Gage,[37] a work very different from Baker's.

In 1959 a 36' tall fiberglass sculpture by Gordon Shumaker[38] was produced to commemorate the first 100 years of the Minnesota State Fair.[39] It stands in front of the Pioneer Building. Like the Ponca City statue, it depicts a bonneted woman in ankle length dress striding forward, and like its predecessor, she holds a large book/Bible in her right crooked arm as well as carrying a large bundle on the same arm. At 36 feet tall she more closely approaches the monumentality that Marland was originally seeking for his work.

Hardship and Dreams was the title of a sculpture by Dorothy Koelling (1913-2004) unveiled in Wichita, Kansas on June 28, 1994. A newspaper article at that time described the work as being, "inspired by the monumental 'Pioneer Woman' in in Ponca City, Okla."[40] Koeling's 6 foot tall statue depicts the bonneted pioneer woman, carrying a large book/Bible and bundle in her right arm, marching forward with her flatfooted son, whose hand she holds, next to her.[41]

See also


  1. "NPS Focus". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. Retrieved March 16, 2011.
  2. Davidson. Jo, Between Sittings: An informal autobiography of Jo Davidson, The Dial Press, NY 1951 pp. 210-215
  3. Los Angeles Times. April 6, 1927. p. A4. Check date values in: |access-date= (help); Missing or empty |title= (help);
  4. 1 2 3 "PIONEER WOMAN IN BRONZE: Models in Marland Competition Will Be Shown Here.". New York Times. February 22, 1927. p. 21.
  5. 1 2 "Oil Magnate Refuses to Forget Land That Brought Him Wealth: There Were Women Pioneers Too". The Christian Science Monitor. April 6, 1927. p. 5A.
  6. The Art News, Vol. XXV - No. 21, February 26, 1927
  7. Exhibition of Models for a Monument to the Pioneer Woman, at the Chicago Architectural Exhibition, East Gallerias, Art Institute of Chicago, June 25 to August 1, 1927
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 "MARLAND PRAISES WOMEN PIONEERS: Describes Hardship at Dinner for 12 Sculptors Competing for Huge Memorial. MODELS TO BE SEEN TODAY Free Exhibitions Will Be Held Here and in Other Cities to Get Public's Opinion". New York Times. February 26, 1927. p. 32.
  9. 1 2 3 4 "PIONEER WOMAN SEEN IN BRONZE: Twelve Sculptors Show Their Models for the Proposed Monumental Statue to Be Erected In Oklahoma—Other States to See Them.". New York Times. March 20, 1927. p. XX6.
  10. Toone, Thomas, Mahoni Young: His Life and Art, Signature Books, Salt Lake City Utah, 1997 pp. 126-129
  11. Toone, Thomas, Mahoni Young: His Life and Art, Signature Books, Salt Lake City Utah, 1997 p. 127
  12. Howlett, D. Roger, The Sculpture of Donald De Lue: Gods, Prophets, and Heroes, David R. Godine, Publisher, Boston 1990, p. 21
  13. Freundlich, A.L., The Sculpture of James Earle Fraser, Universal Publishers 2001, pp. 77-79
  14. 1 2 3 "VOTE ON "PIONEER WOMAN.": Bryant Baker's Statue in the Lead -- H.A. MacNeil's Second.". New York Times. March 20, 1927. p. E6.
  15. 1 2 SPECIAL FROM MONITOR BUREAU (December 21, 1927). "New York Sculptor Wins Prize for Typifying Pioneer Women". Christian Science Monitor. p. 3.
  16. 1 2 "PICKS BAKER STATUE OF 'PIONEER WOMAN': Marland Names Winner Among 12 Sculptors for Monument in Oklahoma. POPULAR VOTE THE FACTOR Young Woman, With Bible, Leading Her Son Typifies Hardy Spirit of the Early Days.". New York Times. March 20, 1927. p. 9.
  17. New York Times. February 27, 1927. p. RP4. Missing or empty |title= (help);
  18. "HEART OF THE WEST". Los Angeles Times. May 1, 1927. p. I4.
  19. "PUPILS ANALYZE PIONEER WOMEN: Children in Art Course Favor Most the Design Showing Gun and Arrow—Some Impressed By Babe and Bible Details". New York Times. February 27, 1927. p. RP4.
  20. "OF INTEREST TO ARTISTS". Los Angeles Times. May 1, 1927. pp. 36–37.
  21. Howlett, D. Roger, ‘’The Sculpture of Donald De Lue: Gods, Prophets, and Heroes’’, David R. Godine, Publisher, Boston 1990 p. 21
  22. "Bryant Baker, Sculptor, Dies; Executed Busts of 5 Presidents.". New York Times. March 31, 1970. p. 41.
  23. 1 2 3 4 5 Special to The New York Times. (April 23, 1930). "THE PIONEER WOMAN PRAISED BY HOOVER: President, by Radio, Aids Unveiling of Bronze Group at Ponca City, Okla. HE LAUDS SIMPLE VIRTUES Secretary Hurley, III in Washington, Broadcasts Main Address of Dedication. President Hoover's Speech. Hurley Planned to Be Present. Statue Is Centre of Group.". New York Times. p. 4.
  24. 1 2 "TO HONOR PIONEER WOMEN: Statue by Bryant Baker to Be Unveiled in Ponca City, Okla., Tuesday.". New York Times. April 17, 1930. p. 5.
  25. "THE PIONEER WOMAN". New York Times. April 29, 1930. p. 19.
  26. New York Times. April 20, 1930. p. 114. Missing or empty |title= (help);
  27. "Special to The New York Times.". New York Times. April 17, 1930. p. 22.
  28. Bassano (April 20, 1930). "THE MICROPHONE WILL PRESENT: Easter Week Brings Lucrezia Bori, Renee Chemet and Evelyn Laye to Radio Listeners—Final Philharmonic Symphony Broadcast Today". New York Times. p. 116.
  29. "Hoover Pays Tribute to 'Pioneer Woman'". The Christian Science Monitor. April 23, 1930. p. 2.
  30. Gene Curtis (April 29, 2007). "Only in Oklahoma: Pioneer woman's spirit preserved in bronze". Tulsa World. p. A4.
  31. Kathleen M'Laughlin (January 18, 1940). "CLUBWOMEN PLAN FUND OF $1,000,000: Foundation Will Be Expanded by Federation to Mark Golden Jubilee in 1941 TEA WITH MRS. ROOSEVELT She Says War Today Leaves No Nation Isolated, and All of Us Need to Realize It Plans for Golden Jubilee Mrs. Roosevelt Talks on Peace". New York Times. p. 26.
  32. Edward A Coolier (May 10, 1964). "Ozark Frontier Trail Winds Thru History Area Also Rich in Recreation, Scenic Beauty Ozark Frontier Trail Hits Highlights of Four States Sights Linked with History of West.". Chicago Tribune.
  33. Bill Thomas (June 5, 1968). "THE TRIBUNE TRAVELERS' GUIDE: Ozark Frontier Trail Leads to Adventure.". Chicago Tribune.
  34. Sculptor's View of Monument, Ponca City News, Sunday September 15, 1968
  35. Topeka Journal, Jan. 28, 1929
  36. Topeka Journal, Feb. ? 1929
  37. Topeka State Journal, May 11, 1937
  38. Harris, Moira A., ‘’Monumental Minnesota: A Guide to Outdoor Sculpture’’, Pogp Press Inc., 1992 p. 137
  39. Minnesota State Fair: The history and heritage of 100 years, p. 311-312
  40. Holman, Rhoda, Sculpture recalls hardship, dreams, The Wichita Eagle, June 27, 1994
  41. Polk, Chris Paulsen, ‘’Beautifying Wichita through Sculpture’’, Project Beauty, Inc. Wichita Kansas, 1995, c. 1980 p. 4

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