The 7-foot-tall bronze likeness of the famous Kansas-born aviator, in a flight jacket with flight cap and goggles in hand, is just Statuary Hall’s 11th wife. (Ten are among 100 chosen by the 50 states; a statue of Rosa Parks in the lobby was commissioned by Congress and does not represent any particular state.) She only alludes to Earhart’s various roles: adventurer , wife, nurse, truck driver, fashion designer, social worker, political activist, writer, lecturer and teacher.
“When I look at it, I see inspiration,” said Karen Seaberg, president of the Atchison Amelia Earhart Foundation, which funded the sculpture and plans to open a museum dedicated to Earhart in the airman’s hometown. ‘Atchison, Kan. as a female icon who stood up for women’s rights and lived in a man’s world and did what women weren’t supposed to do since she was a little girl.
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Wednesday’s live unveiling came two months after the nation celebrated 90 years since Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and it offered a striking snapshot of some of the progress made possible by Earhart and other pioneering women in combat. for equality.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) presided over the ceremony, which featured several other women in roles that might have shocked Earhart’s contemporaries, including Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D), Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and uniformed members of the Kansas Air National Guard Color Guard.
Yet, her great-nephew noted, women’s representation in Congress — whether in Statuary Hall or its legislative chambers — still has a long way to go to achieve the equality Earhart fought for. Earhart, unafraid of her thirst for adventure and glory, lobbied President Herbert Hoover for an Equal Rights Amendment that has yet to be ratified.
“If people know her, people know she’s flown planes and disappeared, and all the really important work she’s done on gender equality is not something people are aware,” said great-nephew Bram Kleppner, 56. , who grew up in Silver Spring and lives in Vermont. “And I think the real opportunity is to bring that part of his work and his legacy to a wider group of people. Hopefully the Capitol statue will inspire some people to explore that.
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Earhart has been on a long trajectory to the Capitol for more than two decades. The Kansas Legislature voted in 1999 to replace her two statues in the hall with those depicting her and President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It didn’t take long to raise the funds for Ike, whose statue was installed in 2003, but no longer for Earhart.
The Atchison Amelia Earhart Foundation paid for the statue of Earhart, which sits on a three-foot pedestal of Kansas limestone and weighs a total of 1,500 pounds.
Seaberg, who started the foundation, said the sculpture by Mark and George Lundeen cost $175,000. (A replica, which cost $100,000, was commissioned for the museum, whose construction and financing were also undertaken by the foundation.)
Earhart’s statue replaced a 12,000-pound marble likeness of former Kansas Senator John J. Ingalls, which will also be returned to his home state at the foundation’s expense.
In July 1937, Earhart took off in her Lockheed Electra from New Guinea, heading for tiny Howland Island on perhaps the most difficult leg of what would have been the first woman-piloted round-the-world flight. Instead, she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared.
His disappearance has inspired countless theories, ranging from the fanciful to the forensic.
In 1970, a book claimed that Earhart not only survived the plane crash and Japanese capture, but was later rescued by the United States military and repatriated to the United States, where she lived as a housewife. in New Jersey under the alias of Irene Bolam. (The book was discredited and taken off the market shortly after the actual Bolam appeared and sued, which didn’t stop others from advancing the theory.)
In 2018, a study based on the analysis of remains found in 1940 on the uninhabited atoll of Nikumaroro claimed to settle the case, only to be challenged less than a week later by the appearance of a photograph from the National Archives claiming show that Earhart and Noonan had been captured by Japanese forces.
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For Kleppner and Seaberg, the simplest explanation is also the most likely: his plane derailed, ran out of gas and plunged into the vast Pacific.
“These people have everything they found on the island, and they’re 95% sure,” Kleppner said. “And others are equally certain that the Japanese have captured [her] and she died in Saipan either of cholera or after being executed as a spy, also 95% sure. No one is 100% sure. But despite all the stuff these people have put together, there really isn’t a shred of evidence. There is not a single piece of the plane. There’s not a single piece of human remains. There is nothing.”