Later this month, the United States Capitol will unveil a statue of Amelia Earhart, who will become the tenth woman honored in the National Statuary Hall Collection. According to a statement from Senator Roger Marshall’s office, Earhart’s statue will represent the state of Kansas, where she was born, replacing a statue of Senator John James Ingalls.
Established in 1864, Statuary Hall is an imposing room in the Capitol displaying two statues from each state. (Technically, only a portion of the collection’s 100 statues fit in the hall itself; the rest are nearby.) Each state can pick its two statues, provided that they honor people who are no longer living.
The Earhart statue’s journey to the Capitol has been over two decades in the making, writes the Kansas City Star’s Daniel Desrochers. In 1999, the Kansas State legislature voted to replace the state’s existing statues—which honored Senator John James Ingalls and Governor George W. Glick—with statues of Earhart and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Eisenhower’s statue reached the Capitol in 2003, but delays related to funding and design decisions slowed the Earhart statue’s installation. By 2019, the statue had been made and was awaiting approval, CQ Roll Call’s Sean Newhouse reported at the time. But the process took three years to complete.
Ingalls, whose statue is being removed, was a senator from Kansas in the late 1800s. Ingalls came up with Kansas’ state motto, Ad Astra per Aspera (to the stars through difficulties).
“Ingalls’ vision for Kansas comes to fruition in Amelia Earhart’s courageous spirit,” Marshall says in the statement. “Today, Kansas is known as the air capital of the world, and the placement of the Earhart statue in our nation’s capital furthers our commitment to that industry.”
Born in Atchison, Kansas in 1897, Earhart is best known as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. But she was also a champion of women’s rights, helping found an organization for women pilots later called the Ninety-Nines.
In 1937, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan attempted to fly around the world. A month into their journey, their plane went down—likely about 100 miles from their final destination, Howland Island. The plane was never found.
“Though she disappeared on her flight around the world, Amelia Earhart did not leave a tragic legacy,” says Karen Seaberg, founder and president of the Atchison Amelia Earhart Foundation, in a statement. “Instead, her story is one of daring, bravery and perseverance. Her life and legacy continue to inspire people across the U.S.—and around the globe—to courageously pursue their dreams.”
The foundation is spearheading the new Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum, slated to open in 2023, which will feature the world’s last Lockheed Electra 10-E (the plane that Earhart flew on her last flight) and a copy of the statue unveiled in the Capitol.
Earhart will join nine other women honored in the Statuary Hall Collection: Mother Joseph, Helen Keller, Jeannette Rankin, Sakakawea, Maria Sanford, Sarah Winnemucca, Esther Hobart Morris, Florence Sabin and Frances Willard. Out of all the statues in the Capitol (including those outside the Statuary Hall Collection), just 5 percent of them are women, NPR’s Claudia Grisales reported last year.
Now, lawmakers are hoping to change that. President Joe Biden recently signed a bipartisan bill into law that would add statues of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor to the Capitol grounds. In late 2020, Virginia announced that it would replace its statue of Robert E. Lee with one of civil rights activist Barbara Rose Johns.
As Jacqueline Musacchio, an art professor at Wellesley College, told NPR, “We don’t have to reach very far to find out that there were incredibly important women that did amazing things in the United States’ history.”