In the wild and wooly barnstorming, daredevil days of aviation from its beginnings to World War II, there were few occupations outside the home open to women other than teaching, nursing and secretarying. That’s when a group of adventurous females—some of them girls still in their teens– took to the skies, risking their lives flying flimsy wooden aircraft in open cockpits. Often disparaged and mocked by the male pilots, there was both camaraderie and competitiveness among these flygirls as records for speed, distance and altitude were swiftly set and broken, and there was a constant succession of ‘firsts’.
Here are their names, some common and some unusual, any of which would make an admirable namesake. (btw, some of these ‘first’ claims might appear to be contradictory).
ADRIENNE Bolland, a Frenchwoman who was the first to fly across the treacherous Andes mountains.
ANESIA Pinkeiro Machado was Brazil’s first female pilot.
BERYL Markham was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west.
BESSICA Medlar Raiche constructed a biplane in her living room and made her first solo flight in 1910.
ELINOR Smith, who died last week at 98, became interested in flying at the age of 8. Received her pilot’s license at 16, was soon breaking records, doing daredevil stunts and making headlines as “The Flying Flapper of Freeport.”
ELISE Deroche, a Frenchwoman, was the first woman in the world to obtain a pilot’s license in 1910.
ELLY BEINHORN was acclaimed for her solo flights across every continent.
EVELYN ‘BOBBI’ Trout, with Elinor Smith, became well known for establishing an endurance record, being the first woman to refuel a plane in mid-air , and in 1929 set the first women’s record for an all night-flight.
HANNA Reitsch was the first woman to fly a helicopter.
HÉLÈNE Dutrieu, Belgium’s first licensed woman pilot, was called the “Girl Hawk”.
LOUISE McPhetridge Thaden held speed, endurance and altitude records for women fliers; Louise Bastie, known as MARYSE, flew further in a non-stop run than any other woman, and further nonstop in a light plane than anyone of either gender.
MARVEL Crosson was Alaska’s first woman pilot, setting a new altitude record for women.
MATILDE Moisant became the second licensed woman pilot in the US, and the first to fly the English Channel (a feat considered so impossible for a female that a male pilot offered to wear her purple silk outfit and impersonate her).
NETA Snook Southern, a pioneer aviator with a long list of firsts, including running her own aviation business and commercial airfield.
PHOEBE Omlie, one of the greatest barnstormers of the post-World War I era, was the first woman to hold a government post in the field of aviation.
RAYMONDE de la Roche received the first pilot’s license issued to a woman in 1910. When she attempted to become the first female test pilot, her plane went into a dive and she was killed. There’s a statue of her at Le Bourget airport in France.
RUTH Law set two cross-country flying records, later formed a flying circus and was a successful barnstormer. Ruth Nichols, nicknamed the “Flying Debutante,” was the only woman to hold simultaneous records for speed, altitude and distance.
THERESE Peltier was the first woman to fly an airplane solo in 1910.