Things I like: suffragettes, war workers, factory girls, socialites who got stuff done, ladies who ruled countries, and women who changed the world, even if it was just a little bit. Click on photos for sources.
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Brazilian aviation expert Anesia Pinheiro Machado photographed with Pan American Airways senior instructor Donald Dionne, 1940.
Anesia was the second woman to earn a Brazilian pilot’s license and the first woman to earn a US commercial pilot’s license with additional ratings as an instructor and for flying on instruments only.
In September 1922, Anesia flew across Brazil to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Brazil’s independence from Portugal. This four day flight made her the first woman to fly across Brazil. When she landed in Rio, Brazilian aviation pioneer Santos Dumont gave Anesia a replica of the medal he received from Isabel de Bragança. That medal became Anesia’s good luck charm and she was never without it.
Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) was the first African American woman to earn an aviator’s license. Unable to find anyone willing to train a black woman to fly in the US, Bessie learned French so that she could learn to fly in France. She was the first American of any race or gender to earn an international pilot’s license.
Bessie died at age 34 during a test flight for an exhibition in Jacksonville, Florida.
Bessie is profiled in a Smithsonian Channel documentary entitled Black Wings, which is airing this month. An excerpt from the documentary can be seen here. If you are interested in black female pilots, check out the novel Flygirl.
Staff at Disney worked off the clock to produce the short animated commercial, “We’ll Take Ike.” The lyrics for this song were written by Gil George, who was actually Hazel George. She was first hired as a nurse at Disney Studios. After her knack for writing was discovered she wrote song lyrics for The Mickey Mouse Club and a number of Disney animated feature films.
In the pictured telegram, Jacqueline Cochran wrote, “I personally believe the proposed short could be the greatest piece of propaganda in the whole campaign…” 9/30/52
Also pictured, a letter from Bill Anderson at Disney that accompanied an autographed animation cel setup and copy of the song, “We’ll Take Ike” for the newly elected President Eisenhower. 11/19/52.
Thérèse Peltier (1873 – 1926) was a French sculptress and aviator. Popularly believed to have been the first ever woman passenger in an airplane she should perhaps instead be recognised as the first woman to pilot a heavier-than-air craft. A friend of fellow sculptor Leon Delagrange when he became interested in aviation Peltier soon followed
On this day in 1937, the famed aviator Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan were last heard from before they disappeared. They made contact whilst flying over the Pacific Ocean in an attempt to make the first equatorial round-the-world flight. Soon after they went missing, a massive search operation was launched but to no avail. Her fate remains unknown to this day
Famous women pilots preparing to take part in the 1934 MemorialDay air races at Dycer Airport. In front row kneeling is Gladys O’Donnell, who last year entered seven races and won six. Seated is Ruth Elder, famous flying beauty. Standing left to right: Kay Van Doozer, Myrtle D. Mims and Clema Granger.
On Saturday, 21 May 1932, Amelia Earhart was on her second Atlantic crossing when she was forced to land in a field near Derry (Londonderry) in her “Little Red Bus”.
Ireland of the Welcomes was to the fore in the Irish Independent account on Monday, 23 May 1932:”… the hospitality she had received after making her forced descent, for two minutes later she was in the cottage of Mr and Mrs Peter McCallion, who put their home at her disposal. Almost at the same time Mr Gallagher arrived and persuaded Miss Earhart to accompany him to his home, where Mrs Gallagher had tea already prepared.” There was no account of how the McCallions took to having the Gallaghers scoop them in what must have been the tea party of their lives!
Pan Am made an interesting hire in 1948. Their newest stewardess (they were not yet “flight attendants”) was Betty Haas. Ms. Haas was the first in her position to have ever logged over 1,000 hours in a cockpit. She had more experience flying planes than some of the pilots in the airline, but the idea of a woman flying a commercial plane was unthinkable.
Ms. Haas, who became Mrs. Haas Pfister in the 1950s, began flying when she was 19, sneaking her first flight after a local air show in Vermont. When World War II erupted, Haas Pfister was qualified to join the Air Force’s female branch, Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs. Women replaced men who were needed in combat, flying planes to various location in the U.S. and internationally and sometimes dragging aerial targets across the sky for artillery practice.
While at Pan Am, Haas Pfister rebuilt her own plane, “Galloping Gertie,” and became a fixture at air shows and races, winning two All Women’s International Air Races. In 1994 she was named an Elder Statesman of Aviation by the National Aeronautical Association, and in 2010 she and other surviving WASPs were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
Mrs. Haas Pfister died at the age of 90.
(Image of Betty Haas Pfister cleaning “Galloping Gertie” is courtesy of the Boston Globe.)
Betty Skelton had no fear. Whether in the cockpit or the driver’s seat, Ms. Skelton focused on one thing only: speed. Taking flying lessons beginning at age ten, she found her first thrills in the twists and turns of “aerobatics.” Ms. Skelton could do things with a plane few had seen before, especially by a woman. She would fly upside down, ten feet from the ground, and cut a ribbon with her propeller to open an event. She would take a non-pressurized, non-insulated Piper Cub to the highest altitude ever, over 29,000 feet. (“I usually fly bare-footed, so my feet darn near froze to death.”) She flew a Mustang P-51 at an unoffical speed of 421 MPH, but after the engine exploded and she was able to bring the plane down the record didn’t count since she didn’t land where she took off. Her first open cockpit plane, “The Little Stinker,” hangs in the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center - upside down.
When she stopped flying, she began driving, and the milestones kept piling up. She was the first woman to drive a pace car at the Indianapolis 500 in 1957. She set long-distance driving records from New York to Los Angeles (56 hours, 57 minutes) and Argentina to Chile (41 hours, 14 minutes). She became the first female test driver for Chevrolet, beginning with the Corvette. (She drove a red model for the rest of her life.) She set land speed records at both Daytona Beach, FL and the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.
In the miscellaneous category, Ms. Skelton became the first woman boat jumper (see above) at Cyrpress Gardens in Florida. While the first seven Mercury astronauts were undergoing rigorous tests to prepare them for space flight so was Ms. Skelton. She passed them all, and the Mercury 7 dubbed her “7 1/2.” Ms. Skelton, who was 85, was inducted into eleven different halls of fame, including the National Aviation Hall of Fame and the Motorsports Hall of Fame.
She joins Faye Blackstone (trick horserider) and Mary Alfonsi (professional wrestler) in the coincidental “Awesome Women & High-Risk Activities” triumverate.
Katherine “Katie” Stinson (1891-1977) earned her pilot’s license in 1912, making her the fourth women in the US to become a licensed pilot.Originally, flying was merely a way for her to earn money to fund her musical studies, but Katie soon became well known on the exhibition circuit.After only a few years of flying, Katie and her sister Marjorie (the ninth woman to become a licensed pilot in the US) opened a flight school in Texas, the first female owned flight school in the world.
Known as the “Flying Schoolgirl,” Katie was the first woman skywriter, the first woman to loop the loop, and the first woman to fly in Canada, Japan, and China.Through her exhibition flights, Katie raised two million dollars for the Red Cross.
In 1917, Katie put her aviation career on hold to volunteer as an ambulance driver in World War I.Unfortunately, she contracted tuberculosis while in Europe and the effects of the illness permanently ended her flying career.
Following the war, Katie settled in New Mexico and became an architect.Inspired by Katie and Marjorie, their brother Eddie founded the Stinson Aviation Company.A middle school in San Antonio is named for her.
Gladys Roy was a barnstormer during the 1920s, performing mostly in Minneapolis and Los Angeles. Gladys was a parachute jumper and a wing-walker, her most famous stunts were dancing the Charleston and playing tennis on the wing of an airplane in flight. A popular attraction at county fairs, Gladys also appeared in 1925 film The Fighting Ranger.
Gladys was planning a flight from New York to Rome, when she accidentally walked into a spinning propeller.She was 25 year old when she died.