In the 1920s and 30s, some 500,000 spectators came out to watch airplane races every weekend. Pilots earned tens of thousands of dollars for winning -- a huge purse in those hard times. They also crashed at up to 200 mph, right in front of fans. Men dominated the sport. But a few women broke into it, and fought to beat the best men. Their story is told in the new book “Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History.”
Some of the competitors in the first-ever women’s air derby, stopping in
East St. Louis, Ill., in August 1929. From left to right: Mary Elizabeth von Mach,
Jessie “Chubbie” Miller, Gladys O’Donnell, Thea Rasche, Phoebe Omlie,
Louise Thaden, Amelia Earhart, Blanche Noyes, Ruth Elder and Vera Walker.
Credit: St. Louis University Libraries.
Florence Klingensmith—nervous before her first flight here, around 1928—soon emerged
as the woman to beat in the sky. Credit: Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County.
Rivals in the sky, Earhart, Nichols, and Thaden became friends on the ground, helping
the female pilots organize against the men. Credit: Thaden Family Collection.
Author Keith O'Brien. Credit: Erik Jacobs.
Keith O'Brien, author of “Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History”