Congressional leaders and Kansas officials praised aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart on Wednesday for advancing the cause of women's rights during her barrier-breaking career at a ceremony unveiling her statue in the U.S. Capitol.
Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, joins President Dwight Eisenhower as Kansas icons enshrined in the National Statuary Hall Collection. She is the 11th woman honored with a statue in the collection, where each state is represented by two people of significance.
U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas said that while Earhart is best known for flying across the ocean, she was also a military nurse, social worker, author, and a champion for women's advancement.
“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,’" Davids said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted that Earhart, who was born and raised in Atchison, Kansas, was the first woman to ever receive the Distinguished Flying Cross from the U.S. Congress.
“Not only was she an outstanding aviator, but she had a strong moral compass as an outspoken champion for gender equality,” Pelosi said. "Amelia envisioned aviation as a great equalizer, and she fought valiantly to close the gender gap.”
The Kansas Legislature voted in 1999 to replace previous statues with those of Eisenhower and Earhart. Eisenhower's statue arrived in 2003 but the bronze statue of Earhart was delayed until the Atchison Amelia Earhart Foundation raised the funding for it.
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Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said it was fitting that one of the state's most notable pioneering women was being honored.
“Let it be an inspiration for all, particularly our young girls, for generations to come," Kelly said.
Earhart disappeared in July 1937 on a flight over the Pacific Ocean while trying to become the first pilot to circle the globe at the equator. No trace of her or her navigator, Fred Noonan, has ever been found, sparking numerous theories about what happened to them.