Editor’s note: During the month of March, as modern global elites champion powerful and defiant women, this ongoing series flips the script by featuring Alaskan women who embraced their vocations as daughters, sisters, wives and mothers, while leavening the world with that particular love unique to the “genius of women.” Click here to read part one about Yup’ik hero Matushka Olga.

Recognizing the home as the center of their most important work, resolute Christian mothers sometimes discern the call to bring their convictions to the public square. Hence, they’re found on the front lines of the culture wars: defending the unborn, volunteering at their children’s school, assisting fellow women as they strive to live out their vocations.

Irene Ryan is a remarkable mother featured in the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame whose defense of the unborn and personal striving for holiness have been overshadowed by her many accomplishments as a pioneering pilot, engineer, and state senator.

“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 Ryan

Born in Boston in 1909, Ryan moved to Alaska at the age of 21, and a year later became the first female pilot to solo in the Alaska Territory. She was the first woman to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in geology at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, where she met her husband John “Pat” Ryan. After graduation and marriage, they moved back to Alaska with the first of their two daughters.

Although Irene accomplished several “firsts” for women, there is no indication she was motivated by a desire to “make it” in male-dominated fields. Her daughter Marcella recalled her as “a woman who had inner strength of conviction. She didn’t speak often, but when she did, people listened.”

In the book, “Women Pilots of Alaska,” Irene Ryan Describes her own approach to a civil and political career, Irene Ryan explained, “I have found that the best way to be accepted on equal ground is to go ahead and quietly do the job at hand.”

Ryan’s entrance into the political sphere – as an Alaska Territorial House of Representatives member, a state senator, and commissioner of the Department of Economic Development- was similarly set in motion by a straightforward recognition that she had something to contribute. Marcella Ryan points out in “Women Pilots of Alaska” that, since her father Pat Ryan was employed as a federal civil servant, he was unable to publicly engage in politics: “They would attend meetings and my father would elbow my mother to speak up. That’s how she got thrust into the political arena.”

Irene Ryan was personally invested in the healthy growth and development of her family and local community. Although not recorded in the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame, Irene’s faith informed her conscience and played an integral role in her life. Local Catholic apologist Ed Wassell recalls seeing Irene and Pat Ryan at daily Mass at the Holy Spirit Retreat Center in Anchorage, as well as their involvement in the pro-life “Rescue Movement.”

Imitating a civil disobedience movement begun in New York in the mid-80’s, a group of Alaskans organized themselves to block entrances to the abortion clinic in Anchorage. Their goal was to save lives, convert hearts, and raise awareness of the legalized slaughter of the innocents in our midst. The Ryans did not shy away from an opportunity to defend innocent children and to assist in building a culture of life in Alaska.

“The Ryans were modest; there was never a bad word spoken against them, by Catholics or Protestants,” Wassell recalled. “They were movers and shakers when Anchorage was young, and seemed to quietly go about doing good deeds that most people have no knowledge of.”

Irene Ryan passed away in 1997 at the age of 88. She had made an impressive impact upon the Alaska oil industry and made history as a pilot and politician. Discovering her devotion to Christ and defense of the unborn adds a refreshing insight into this extraordinary woman.

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Authentic Alaskan Women (Part 2): Alaska’s 1st female pilot was also a pro-life champion

Theresa Bird
Theresa Bird is a wife and homeschooling mother of eight. She earned her BA in Philosophy at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, NH. She lives in Anchorage.


  • Toscano says:

    You can also listen to her comments on Walter Hickel’s “Broken Promises” video. She flat-out warns us that unless we gain control of our land and resources, the broken guarantees and promises of statehood will relegate Alaska and Alaskans to a tourist zoo. Her prediction, made in 1992, is coming true.
    Go to 22:37

    • Laura says:

      I have been enjoying this series of articles on Alaskan women, written by an Alaskan woman of accomplishment.