Alaska's First Female Pilot
June 26, 2020
“I have found that the best way to be accepted on equal ground is to go ahead and quietly do the job at hand.” – Irene Irvine Ryan, 1959, from "Women Pilots of Alaska," by Sandi Sumner
Meet Irene Irvine Ryan, the first female to successfully complete a solo flight in Alaska. Born in Boston in 1909, Irene relocated to Alaska in 1931 after hearing stories of bush pilots from her uncle. On June 23, 1932, Irene became the first woman to successfully complete a solo flight in the Territory of Alaska.
Irene also accomplished many other amazing feats during her life. She was the first female geologist to graduate from the New Mexico School of Mines. After graduating, Irene returned to Alaska and worked for the Civilian Aeronautics Authority (CAA), designing airfields throughout Alaska, including the Anchorage International Airport. She also served in the Alaska Territorial House of Representatives, and later served in the state Senate after Alaska became a state. She received an honorary doctorate from Alaska Pacific University in 1985 and the following year was named Alaskan of the Year. She passed away in 1997 at the age of 88.
Did you know Irene Irvine Ryan and have a story you’d like to share about her? We’d love to know more about her and about the powerful women in your life. Share your images and stories with us on Instagram and Facebook by tagging us (@anchoragemuseum and #ExtraToughWomenAK) and we’ll add them to our ongoing digital curation project. Stay tuned for more information about the upcoming exhibition and be sure to check back for new #ExtraToughWomenAK posts.
Image credit: Lu Liston Collection, Anchorage Museum, B1989.16.784.2