An imposing 17-foot-tall figure looks west from a pedestal in Ponca City, Oklahoma, clutching a Bible in one hand and her son in the other. She stands adjacent to the Pioneer Woman Museum, which displays in 12-inch letters across the top of the sunbonnet-themed entrance the words: “I see no boundaries.”
The sculpture is titled Confident, but is more commonly known as the Pioneer Woman. It was commissioned by Ernest Whitworth Marland, a millionaire oilman from Oklahoma who would go on to become a U.S. Congressman and Governor of Oklahoma. Marland had noticed that there were plenty of monuments to male pilgrims and revolutionaries, but not nearly as many honoring the women who shared their plights. He decided to create something to pay tribute to his own pioneering mother and grandmother.
In 1926, he launched a design competition for the tribute, giving 12 artists $10,000 and a sunbonnet to remind them of his conception of a woman in pioneer dress with her child in tow. Most of the resulting models included a sunbonnet in the design, including the winning piece, the Pioneer Woman statue. The sculpture was unveiled in 1930, on the 41st anniversary of the first land run in Oklahoma. President Herbert Hoover gave a nationwide radio address from the White House to mark the occasion.
The museum was dedicated 28 years later, in a building with a copper-lined entrance, meant, once again, to evoke a sunbonnet. Inside are exhibits about pioneer life, period instruments and artifacts, and a Pioneer Woman Walk of Fame telling the stories of women from all races and nationalities who contributed to the Oklahoma’s history.