Amelia's Daughters: A Legacy of Women in FlightJuly 23, 2010 | Cheryl Young
Editor's Note: Today's guest blog is in honor of Amelia Earhart's birthday, July 24, 1897. The author is Cheryl Young, educator, founder of Young Education Services (YES) and biographer of Elizabeth Strohfus, WWII pilot.
In the early 1990s, I was searching for an oral history of a female pilot that had lived the experience of being a Woman Airforce Service Pilot in WWII. I met a WWII pilot named Elizabeth Wall Strohfus through an organization called the Ninety-Nines. Founded by Amelia Earhart, this organization was named for the first 99 female licensed pilots.
When I met Elizabeth, I knew it was not right that her and her colleagues' stories were left out of the history books. I wanted to create a legacy for them. I was not sure how but I knew that I had to try.
One October day, about a year after this visit, I received a phone call from an administrator at Washburn High School, an aviation magnet high school in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I had been working with Elizabeth giving presentations around the country about her experiences as a military woman pilot. Our goal was to create recognition for their unknown history.
I was asked if I would be interested in helping to create a group for young women interested in aviation. There were about 30 young women in the program and over 100 young men. He felt that there was a need for a group to be created to support them in this non-traditional career choice. I co-founded Young Education Services (YES), my first legacy project. I wanted to help the next generation of young women discover and experience aviation.
So, I agreed that this would be something I would be interested in and met with the girls two weeks later. At this time, in the early 1990s, it was very unusual to see high school young women flying. I asked Elizabeth to come and meet the girls and join us now and again at various events. The group agreed to meet once a week after school.
We were very fortunate to find a woman pilot who was a captain at North West Airlines. She and her husband, also a captain at Northwest, built a home along with a group of pilots along a grass landing strip where they could easily take their private aircraft out for a flight. Our mentor had three small planes in the hanger which was attached to the house. She also was a collector of books and videos about women in aviation history. We would go out to her home for a meeting once a month. Each girl would choose a book and find a cozy place to read for an hour. We would come back together and share the stories we had read. This way we discovered many new women to admire and learn about such as wing walkers, racing pilots, and Soviet Union military pilots.
We learned about Marina Raskova, the "Soviet Amelia Earhart," a renowned aviator who persuaded Stalin in 1941 to establish the all women regiments; the daredevil "night witches" who flew biplanes on night bombing missions over the German frontlines.
Thanks to the generous pilots of the Experimental Aircraft Association, we took flights in gliders and private aircraft. They volunteered they time and gas, as they were interested in giving youth their first rides as well as encouraging them to take an interest in aviation.
The glider rides were especially exciting. When you are flying in a glider, there is no motor noise, just the sound of the wind passing over the wings. Flying felt like you were a bird.
One of our most memorable experiences was attending the Women in Aviation Conference in 1993. It was a great experience for our girls to meet early women aviators who encouraged their interests in all aspects of aviation. They had the opportunity to have conversation with the women they had read about in their books. A great example was meeting Bobby Trout, an early racing pilot, and friend of Amelia Earhart, who was inducted into the Women in Aviation Hall of Fame that year. She told them what it was like to refuel in mid air at night. She set a record of flying for 122 hours without landing.
The group created aviation workshops for young girls. We would invite girls to a local airport, introduce them to some women pilots and then partner with the Experimental Aircraft Association to take them on their first flights. In this way, these young women continued building the legacy that was started one day when I first met Elizabeth and knew that we had to tell the world about the amazing accomplishments of many more women that never were recognized. I am sure Amelia is smiling at all of the opportunities that are now available to women and girls in the aviation world.
In our group, after our four years together, we had one receive her private pilots' license, another her helicopter license and two receive full scholarships in engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.