You may be asking yourself, “why did I just read all this?” What is the significance of this history? It is sad to note that a majority of Americans know relatively little about their past and have an “underdeveloped sense of how history happens” (Wallace, Mickey Mouse History, p. 26). So often do we forget the steps that it took for us to be where we are today. All histories are events that lead up to our present day. It adjusts the ways in which we interpret events and examine our identities. Take this subject: aviation. The majority of us take it for granted. When we plan a trip, we know that we are probably going to book a flight. What is forgotten is the milestones that were reached in order for us to enjoy the convenience of flight. And women were just as much a part of this. Until just recently, these women were recognized for their feats and as an historian, I am continuing the discussion to ensure that these women are not forgotten.
Several regions of the United States display their pride for their citizen’s contributions to the field of aviation. Ohio proudly declares itself as the “Birthplace of Aviation,” in which the Wright brothers were born as well as 24 astronauts, including John Glenn and Neil Armstrong (Cincinnati Enquirer). Even though California does not exhibit anything along the same lines, the Bay Area has a rich tradition of aviation. San Francisco called the first American woman pilot a daughter of San Francisco; Amelia Earhart claimed that Oakland was her favorite city to fly in and out; and San Francisco born sisters Janet and Marion Dietrich were a part of a small group that laid the foundation for future women astronauts.
My blog provides an avenue to bring light to the many contributions that female aviators have made. The history of which I have discussed covers the first half of 20th century American history. It includes so many aspects of our nation’s history. The United States takes pride that it is the birthplace of aviation. All across the nation, monuments memorialize our accomplishments in avionics. Memorials are dedicated to male figures who have contributed to the field; including major airports, parks, and memorials.
Let’s compare the national memorials for our first male and female American pilots. While the Wright brothers have a multitude of monuments, airports, and parks dedicated to them, on the other hand, Harriet Quimby is lost in the archives. Take for example, every year since 1966, the Kill Devil Hills Memorial Association (the Wright brothers memorial located in North Carolina) has recognized a significant member of aviation history. Each individual is inducted in the First Flight Shrine. Their mission is to honor “those individuals and groups that have achieved significant ‘firsts’ in aviation’s development” (http://www.firstflight.org/shrine.php). Ironically, it was not until 1999 that Harriet Quimby was recognized. Even Charlie Taylor, the “world’s first airplane mechanic” was inducted before Quimby. Granted, I will give the Association some credit, for Jackie Cochran and Amelia Earhart were inducted in the first several years of the program. However, one has to ask why did it take 33 years for them to recognize our first woman pilot?
The history of female aviators is reflective of the gender inequality in our nation’s history. Each generation of women faced the same struggles, critics claiming that they did not have the mental or physical capacity to fly; many were excluded from government programs that welcomed male pilots who were often underqualified rather than accept qualified women pilots (the WASPs and the Mercury 13); while others were simply buried in our archives (Harriet Quimby).
I am hoping to use this blog as a means to promote American women’s contribution to aviation, more specifically the Bay Area women. On the local level, there are no memorials dedicated to these women from the Bay Area. Local museums are lacking information on these individuals who promoted female influence in a male-dominated field.
The research here has uncovered that there is a rich aviation history in the Bay Area. More can be learned about these women and their accomplishments with extensive research. My goal was to shed light on the history of female aviators and that their history does indeed exist.