Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History
In the late 1920s and early ’30s, aviation was still in its infancy, but Americans were enamored with the new mode of transportation. Every flight was an exciting experience and, in some cases, dangerous as well. The various air races and airshows of the time drew hundreds of thousands of spectators, and the highly contested flying circuits quickly evolved into “good ole’ boy” clubs; women need not apply. In 1928, for example, there were fewer than a dozen American women who possessed a pilot’s license. Those women who actually flew were a special breed indeed.
Fly Girls, written by Keith O’Brien, tells the story of women fighting for their right to fly airplanes. And of course, at a time where the term “glass ceiling” hadn’t even been coined, these brave and talented women knew it would be an uphill fight—all the way to the winner’s circle. The chance to actually fly and race against the famous male pilots and then to beat them at their own game seemed like an impossible goal. But fly, race, and win they did, in one of the toughest, most dangerous air races of them all. For the female pilots, it was a stunning victory, proving to all that they were truly just as good as, if not better than, the male pilots.
Fly Girls focuses on the stories of five remarkable women: Florence Klingensmith, a high-school dropout from Fargo, North Dakota; Ruth Elder, a divorcée from Alabama; Ruth Nichols, who rebelled against her blue-blood family’s expectations of her; the famous aviatrix Amelia Earhart; and Louise Thaden, a mother of two who got her start as a coal salesperson in Wichita, Kansas. Thanks to their drive and tenacity, they moved forward slowly but surely until they were taken seriously as pilots and were given the chance to race against the men in the most dangerous sport of all. And in 1936, defying all the odds, one of them would indeed triumph.
The author does an exceptional job weaving together the various personal stories of these incredible women. Although these women were in competition with the men, they often found themselves competing among themselves as well, as can be seen in events such as the Powder Puff Derby. In the book, you learn of the women’s victories, failures, joys, and sorrows, and you come away with an understanding that their struggles were more complicated than the headlines would indicate.
I was going to reveal who won the Bendix Transcontinental Speed Race in 1936, but that would spoil the fun. You’ll have to get the book to find out. Today, with the struggle for equal pay for equal work still raging, Fly Girls tells an inspirational tale of courage and fortitude, and everyone will find it a satisfying read, regardless of their gender.
For more information on the Fly Girls and to see vintage video footage of the events surrounding the characters in this book, visit flygirlsbook.com.— Gerry Yarrish