Aviation was a new and dangerous pursuit in the early 1900s; many considered it to be a man’s game. Though a few decades had passed since the Wright brothers made their first flight at Kitty Hawk, air travel was still fairly new.
The stigma against female pilots didn’t sit well with those who wished to fly. Among them were Amelia Earhart, Ruth Elder, Florence Klingensmith, Ruth Nichols, and Louise Thaden. These women were all charter members of The Ninety-Nines (The 99s)—an organization established in 1929 for the advancement of women pilots. They aimed to show the world that they were every bit as capable and brave as their male counterparts.
Author Keith O’Brien weaves together the stories of these five women in Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History. Though Amelia Earhart is the most well known pilot out of the five, the remaining four women all made impressive strides in their field. Ruth Nichols was born into an aristocratic New York City family and rebelled against societal norms when she became a pilot—setting a new world altitude record and becoming the first woman to pilot a commercial passenger airline in 1932.
Florence Klingensmith was inspired by a visit from Charles Lindberg in 1928 to take flying lessons, and even went door to door persuading local businessmen in Fargo, North Dakota to help her purchase a plane. Klingensmith went on to set the women’s record for inside loops, completing 1,078 loops in 1931. Known as the “Miss America of Flying,” Ruth Elder made a name for herself when she established a new over-water endurance flight record of 2,623 miles with pilot George Haldeman in 1927. While all of these female pilots made an impact, Louise Thaden became the first woman to win the Bendix Trophy Race in 1936—the first year in which women were allowed to compete against men.
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Featured photo of Amelia Earhart in a Stearman-Hammond Y-1: Wikipedia