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Irene Ryan was a woman of many firsts. She was a pilot, geological engineer, and politician. In June 1932, at age 22, Irene became the first woman to solo an airplane in the Territory of Alaska. She was the first woman geologist to graduate from New Mexico School of Mines. She put that degree to good use when she designed and constructed airfields during WWII, and then after the war, she helped design the Anchorage International Airport.
Irene served in the Alaska Territorial House of Representatives and, after statehood in 1959, in the State Senate. Her expertise in oil and mining was seen as very beneficial by the male-dominated legislature. Former attorney general John Havelock said, “It was really extraordinary that a woman could make her way in a man’s world, in a mans topic.” Irene explained, “I have found that the best way to be accepted on equal ground is just to go ahead and quietly do the job at hand.”