Within the holdings of the National Archives, you will find many resources documenting the history and early days of aviation. Among these records include the stories and flights of American women aviation pioneers, captured by newsreel footage and World War I era photographs.
Within textual material for an item titled Aviation, Historical, Since 1919 you can find Ruth Elder, the first woman to attempt a transatlantic flight.
What may be her greatest feat however, took place on November 19, 1916, when she broke the existing cross-America flight air speed record of 452 miles set by Victor Carlstrom by flying nonstop from Chicago to New York State, a distance of 590 miles.
The next day she flew on to New York City. Flying over Manhattan, her fuel cut out, but she glided to a safe landing on Governors Island and was met by United States Army Captain Henry “Hap” Arnold (who changed her spark plugs in the Curtiss pusher), who would one day become Commanding General of the United States Army Air Forces. President Woodrow Wilson attended a dinner held in her honor on December 2, 1916.
Other American women aviation pioneers include Bessie Coleman, the first African American and Native American woman pilot, and known for her daring stunt tricks in the air.
In 1922, Coleman became the first African American woman to complete a public flight and audiences were thrilled with her loop-the-loop and Figure 8 tricks in her plane. She also became known for giving flight lessons and inspiring both Africans Americans and women to fly planes.
Willa Beatrice Brown was an aviator, flight instructor, officer, and civil rights activist, who created a path for thousands of black men and women to become pilots.
Brown’s efforts to establish a training school for African American Air Force cadets led to the creation of the Army Training facility at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1941.
Katherine Stinson became one of the first women in the United States to earn a pilot’s license on July 24, 1912, at the age of 21. After earning her license, Stinson and her family founded the Stinson Aircraft Company, and the Stinson School of Flying, in San Antonio, Texas.
In 1918, Stinson became the first woman commissioned as a mail pilot for the Post Office Department. After working for the Post Office, Stinson applied to be a volunteer pilot for the army during World War I, but was rejected twice due to her gender.
You can learn more about these Queens of the Air on the Unwritten Record blog by Heidi Holmstrom and Katherine Stinson: Queens of the Air: American Women Aviation Pioneers.
Learn more about Willa Brown on the Rediscovering History blog by Jennifer Johnson, curator for the National Archives Traveling Exhibits Service at the National Archives in Kansas City: The Maker of Pilots: Aviator and Civil Rights Activist Willa Beatrice Brown.
Photos, from above: Ruth Law in a Curtiss Pusher; Ruth Elder, from Historical Ocean Flights; Bessie Coleman, ca. 1922; Willa Beatrice Brown; and Katherine Stinson in her airplane in Boston, tuning up for her trip, 1917.
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