“Women are lacking in certain qualities that men possess,” an Oklahoma airline executive announced in the summer of 1929, as he demanded that female aviators give up flying.
Female aviators faced enormous odds in the early years of aviation. Determined to compete on an equal footing against men, they met resistance at every turn. Yet female fliers such as Louise McPhetridge Thaden, Ruth Nichols, Amelia Earhart, Florence Klingensmith, and Ruth Elder continued to compete, although they, like male fliers, often died trying. This group biography of these brave fliers also includes the stories of a few other young women whose tales—and lives, like Klingensmith’s, were cut short by airplane crashes. By following the women as a group, chronologically, rather than separating the biographies out individually, O’Brien also provides a fascinating look at the evolution of aviation—surely pushed forward through the groundbreaking efforts of women, as well as men. This effort thrillingly celebrates the giant steps forward that female aviators made for women’s equality in the years just after suffrage was achieved. In 1936, Louise Thaden and her co-pilot, Blanche Noyes, won the prestigious (and lucrative) Bendix Trophy for their coast-to-coast flight, beating out a highly qualified field of men and other women, gratifyingly defying most men’s expectations. The story begins in 1926, the year of Bessie Coleman’s death; its focus on these five white women elides the additional challenges faced by woman aviators of color.
Accurate, deeply engrossing, and well-documented. (Nonfiction. 11-18)