“It is not easy to be a pioneer – but oh, it is fascinating! I would not trade one moment, even the worst moment, for all the riches in the world.” – Elizabeth Blackwell, first woman in America to earn a medical degree
When I was in school, the history text books didn’t spare much room for the contributions made by women and minorities. Indeed, most of the women, with few exceptions, mentioned were mostly known for being the wives of prominent men. In my young mind, history was made by white males.
Then, when I was about 8 years old, my family moved to Upland, California. One of the most vivid memories I have of this period of my life is of a statue we drove by often. The imposing granite figure of a rugged woman unsettled me in ways I didn’t understand until I was much older.
The statue, Madonna of the Trail, depicts a pioneer woman carrying a baby in one arm, and a rifle in the other. A young boy clutches her skirt as she strides with purpose over hostile terrain, on a mission we can only imagine.
I remember gazing at the woman’s face and seeing emotions etched in it I was far too young to understand. Even though I was only eight years old, I was struck by the story the statue told of hardship and determination. My young self felt sorry for her, thinking I would never leave the comfort of home to brave the harshness of the unknown wilderness.
Isn’t it interesting that all these years later, I still recall how I felt when I gazed upon her? The emotions the statue evoked in me are easier for me to understand now from the perspective of a woman who has had a lot of life experience; but as a child, I couldn’t quite define what about her that made me feel uncomfortable.
Looking back, I realize she had a much bigger impact on me than I could ever have imagined. She challenged my view of the world and everything I knew to be true at that tender age.
For me, life was easy and safe. The Madonna of the Trail told a much different story. She was alone, save for the company of her two young children. There was no man to help her, to protect her. This was something else that struck me as a child.
I grew up in a very traditional home, and this woman with a rifle at her side, was my first introduction to the concept that sometimes a woman was going to have to stand on her own two feet, and may be called upon to protect herself and her family.
The Madonna of the Trail statues were commissioned by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR). The NSDAR worked to establish the Old Trails Road, which began in Cumberland, Maryland and extended to Upland, California, and having done so wanted to commemorate the contributions of pioneer women in the United States.
August Leimbach, a St. Louis artist, was commissioned to create the statues, and one was erected in each of the twelve states the Old Trails Road connected. They were dedicated between 1927 and 1929.
Harry S. Truman, who, at the time, was a judge, spoke at the dedication of the statue in Ohio, saying, “They [the women] were just as brave or braver than their men, because, in many cases, they went with sad hearts and trembling bodies. They went, however, and endured every hardship that befalls a pioneer.”
I don’t know how much of my risk-taking nature can be attributed to the impression the Madonna of the Trail made on me, but I do know she left a lasting impression. She helped to shape my view of the strength of women and what we can accomplish. She helped me to realize the only limitations that matter are the ones we put on ourselves.
If you would like to know more about the Madonna of the Trail, click here.
Rebecca Lacy is President of Pinnacle Management Group, Incorporated, a company providing leadership coaching, training, and consulting in the areas of employee engagement and leadership development. She is the author of Leadership in Wonderland that takes leaders at all levels on a journey of self-discovery. Website – Facebook – Twitter – Books
Photo Credit – Wikipedia