Pioneer Woman Models
In 1908 E. W. Marland came to Oklahoma after losing his fortune in the Pennsylvania oil fields in the panic of 1907 and by 1920 had reestablished himself and started the Marland Oil Company in Ponca City with a fortune estimated at $85 million (roughly $910 million in modern dollars). Marland was a visionary and not only pioneered the use of geophysical techniques in the oil industry but was years ahead of his time as an employer providing housing, loans, medical care, and other benefits for the thousands of employees who worked at his refineries and pipelines.
But misfortune would strike Marland and in 1928 his oil empire was destroyed by J.P. Morgan's banking interests. Marland was forced out of the oil company he had founded when bankers merged it with Continental Oil Company and renamed the company Conoco.
In 1926 before losing his fortune, Marland decided to build a monument to the disappearing West and began a project to build a statue of the "Pioneer Women" in the city that he had made his home. A trip almost fifty years back in time reminded me of the unique nationwide sculptural competition to create a monument to the Pioneer Woman and I decided to investigate to discover the story of how the Pioneer Woman statue ended up in Ponca City while the models for the monument ended up in Frank Phillips' Woolaroc Museum an hour and a half drive away. This is the story of the Pioneer Woman Models.
In March 2007 my wife and I drove over to spend the day at Woolaroc Museum located on Frank Phillips' ranch retreat 12 miles southwest of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, the nearest city. The museum was almost empty the day we visited. The guides were very helpful as they gave us a private tour. The last time I had been at Woolaroc was when I was in 4th grade at Lutheran School in Ponca City in 1957. My father drove school buses for the Ponca City School System and chartered his school buses for church groups and private organizations and I remember that my father drove our class over to spend the day at Woolaroc.
With the perspective of 57 years of age, Woolaroc seems a lot different now than I remembered and the emotions I felt while walking through the museum weren't so much excitement as sadness and regret over lost innocence.
As a nine year old child, I thought Woolaroc was exciting and wonderful. The most fascinating items were the dioramas of the Native American tribes, the dinosaur egg from the Gobi Desert, the shrunken heads from the Amazon jungle, and a miniature of the Pioneer Woman Statue.
What perplexed me was that in addition to a three foot model of the real "Pioneer Woman" statue I had seen all my life in Ponca City, there were eleven more models of "Pioneer Women" that looked nothing like the one I was so familiar with. I asked my father why the Pioneer Woman Statue was in Ponca City and these models were 75 miles away in Woolaroc. He wouldn't tell me and I forgot about it for forty years. The visit to Woolaroc made me remember my questions and do some research.
In 1926, E. W. Marland, founder of Marland Oil Company (later to become Conoco) and at that time one of the wealthiest men in the world, commissioned twelve 3-foot sculptures that were submitted by US and international sculptors as models for the Pioneer Woman statue. Marland paid each sculptor $10,000 for his submission, about $100,000 in present US dollars. The models were shown in Ponca City, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Dallas, Fort Worth and Oklahoma City where they were viewed by 750,000 people who cast votes for their favorite.
Marland told the sculptors to pay tribute to “the pilgrim mothers, the Puritan women, the mothers of the south, the sturdy broods." The twelve submissions included "Protective" by John Gregory; "Determined" by Maurice Sterne; "Challenging" by H.A. MacNeil; "Affectionate" by James E. Fraser; "Self-Reliant" by A. Stirling Calder; "Fearless" by Wheeler Williams; "Heroic" by Mario Korbel; "Adventurous" by F. Lynn Jenkins; "Sturdy" by Mahonri Young and "Faithful" by Arthur Lee; "Trusting" by Jo Davidson; and "Confident" by Bryant Baker. "All races, all creeds, all nationalities gave their best and bravest women," said Marland.
The New York Times reported on March 27, 1927 that the exhibition had arrived in New York City and that it had attracted "more interest than any exhibition of sculpture New York has known in a long while." The twelve models were exhibited for three weeks in the Reinhardt Galleries and Bryant Baker's model was the winner of the first place in the New York balloting. The Times Reported that "Baker not only won first honors, but was the last man to enter the contest having no more than a month to prepare his model and obtain a casting."
Marland pronounced himself pleased with the models. "I believe all of the sculptors have done well," said Marland. "We could select any one of the twelve figures and get an excellent interpretation of the frontier woman. the decision will be a hard one to make. I expect to be guided largely by public taste, but the final decision will be my own. This national vote is going to show exactly what the American people think about one of the greatest of their women," Marland added.
The exhibition touched a popular chord in American culture of the time. The New York Times reported on March 27, 1927 that among those who visited the exhibition at the Reinhardt Galleries was 91 year old Betty Wollman who as a young bride had journeyed from St. Louis to Leavenworth Kansas in 1855 and had once entertained Abraham Lincoln as a dinner guest in the Wollman household in Leavenworth long before Lincoln was a candidate for President.
Wollman spoke about women's role during pioneer days in the old west and congratulated Marland for his proposal to erect a statue to the Pioneer Woman. "Mr. Marland is to be congratulated for doing this in commemoration of these early women of the West," said Wollman. "The hardships were many, and the courage and self-denial of the women who worked side by side with their husbands and sons and brothers in those primitive days are largely responsible for the development of the Middle Western States, now so rich in everything that goes to make life worth living."
Although the winning statue nationwide was "Confident," produced by British-born American sculptor Bryant Baker, it is believed that Marland's personal favorite was "Trusting" by Jo Davidson who had also sculpted the statue of Marland on the town plaza of Ponca City.
An article about the exhibition in Time Magazine, then in only its fourth year of publication, said that "the pioneer woman selected was not the ugly one executed by Mahonri Young; it was not the demure one executed by Jo Davidson; it was not the brawny one of James Earle Fraser, nor the placid one of Arthur Lee, nor the fragile one of F. Lynn Jenkins. Nor was it Maurice Sterne's, Hermon A. MacNeil's, Alexander Stirling Calder's, although these artists too were among those who made models for the competition. It was not John Gregory's sturdy female, snatching a musket from her moribund husband, although this one ran second in the balloting and won first place in three cities. Instead, it was Bryant Baker's striding figure of a woman whose skirts are blown backward in a prairie breeze, who carries a Bible in one hand, leads her scampish belligerent little boy with the other. This had received most votes in eleven cities; by far the largest total out of the 123,000 votes cast."
Baker's sculpture was unveiled in Ponca City in a public ceremony on April 22, 1930 when forty thousand guests came to hear Will Rogers pay tribute to Oklahoma's pioneers. President Hoover addressed the nation over a nation-wide radio network for the commemoration of the statue. "It was those women who carried the refinement, the moral character and spiritual force into the West," said Hoover. "Not only they bore great burdens of daily toil and the rearing of families, but there were intent that their children should have a chance, that the doors of opportunity," added Hoover. The finished statue of the Pioneer Woman Statue was 27 feet high and weighed 12,000 pounds.
After financial reverses that included the loss of his company Marland Oil Company, E. W. Marland wrote a letter to his friend Frank Phillips on March 11, 1940. "My financial condition compels me to sell objects of art, tapestries, bronzes, rugs, and paintings acquired by me in more prosperous years," wrote Marland. "I will sell at a price approximately 25 per cent of their cost to me... And will consider it a kindness if you will come yourself or send someone to look them over with the object of buying anything you fancy."
Phillips sent art expert Gordon Matzene to inspect the bronzes and began bargaining with Marland for their purchase. In the end Phillips offered Marland $500 for each of the twelve models. Matzene declared that the purchase was a wonderful bargain and the models were removed from Ponca City along with other statues and artwork to became part of Frank Phillips' collection at Woolaroc where they have been on display ever since.
This is the story of how E. W. Marland lost his company, his home, and the beautiful artwork he accumulated to benefit the citizens of Oklahoma.
The Frank Phillips Foundation that runs Woolaroc Museum was founded in 1937 by Frank Phillips and his wife Jane Phillips with the purpose of providing educational support for the employees of Phillips Petroleum Company and their families.
Now that E. W. Marland's oil company and Frank Phillips' oil company have combined into one company, there are thousands of ConocoPhillips employees in Ponca City who would benefit from the Frank Phillips Foundation's original educational and cultural mission of providing support for the employees of his company.
Wouldn't it be a noble gesture for the Frank Phillips Foundation to recognize the friendship between Frank Phillips and E. W. Marland and return the models to Ponca City where they really belong to benefit Phillips' employees in Ponca City.
One possibility would be that the models be placed on permanent loan to the Marland Mansion. Another possibility would be the Pioneer Woman Museum.
Marland's Pioneer Woman Models
Although he lost his fortune, his company, and his home, Marland had something more important - the love of his wife Lydie and the high esteem of his fellow Oklahomans who elected him Governor.
On January 15, 1935, Marland was inaugurated as Governor. Immediately, Marland instituted a policy that would become known as the "Little New Deal." Despite Governor Marland’s efforts, most politicians in Oklahoma never fully embraced the New Deal but by the end of Marland's term as Governor, WPA projects had created jobs for over 90,000 Oklahomans on over 1,300 projects and the Legislature had accepted Marland's proposal for a homestead exemption provision to the state’s ad valorem taxes, increased school funds, and raising the state sales tax to two percent with funds raised by the sales tax to go towards the handicapped, the elderly, and dependent children.
Marland’s term as Governor ended in 1939 and under Oklahoma law he could not succeed himself so Marland returned to Ponca City where he died of a heart condition in October, 1941 only weeks before America's entry into World War II. Marland is buried in Ponca City, the city he loved so well.
History of the Marland Oil Company
Marland's Grand Home in Ponca City
Marland's "Palace on the Prairie"
The Frank Phillips Foundation
Frank Phillips Foundation builds Tulsa's Jane Phillips Hospital
Wikipedia Biography of E. W. Marland
Wikipedia article on Woolaroc
Wikipedia article on Marland Oil Company
1. Woolaroc Museum. "The Frank Phillips Foundation."
2. Time Magazine. "Pioneers" January 2, 1928.
3. The Ponca City News. "Pioneer Woman Models Return to Ponca City" by Louise Abercrombie. May 23, 2000
4. Toone, Thomas E., Mahonri Young: His Life and Art, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 1997
5. New York Times. "Pioneer Woman Seen in Bronze." March 20, 1927.
6. New York Times. "Statue of the Pioneer Woman Stirs Memories of Long Ago." March 27, 1927.
7. PoncaCity.com "The Pioneer Woman"
8. New York Times. "The Pioneer Woman Praised by Hoover." April 23, 1930.
9. Frank's Fancy: Frank Phillips' Woolaroc by Gale Morgan Kane, published 2001 by Oklahoma Heritage Association, page 147
10. Jane Phillips Medical Center. "Jane Phillips Hospital was built by the Frank Phillips Foundation" March 19, 2008.
Related Web Sites:
Ponca City, We Love You
The Broken Statue
Honor the Legacy of EW Marland
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