Photo shows American aviator Blanche Stuart Scott (1885-1970). (Source: Flickr Commons project, 2008)
Despite advances by women in other fields, aviation is still very much a male-dominated area of employ. In fact, female pilots make up just 7.01% of the total licensed pilots in the United States. While we celebrate all women and their contributions to the world today on International Women’s Day, let’s take a moment to learn more about the women who have made their mark on aviation history with ties to the Dayton area.
While not a licensed pilot in her own right, the Wright brothers’ sister was certainly instrumental in their work to build their airplanes both financially as well as through moral support. Katharine also flew with Wilbur and Orville during their 1909 demonstrations in Paris. The Wright brothers were very close with Katharine and depended on one another in all of their endeavors. Wilbur Wright is quoted as saying “If ever the world thinks of us in connection with aviation, it must remember our sister.”
Blanche Stuart Scott
While claiming the record for being the first woman to drive a car from coast to coast in 1910, Scott met the Wright brothers at their flight school in Dayton. She was so interested in aviation after meeting with the Wright brothers that she sought out lessons in her home state of California. Scott is the only woman trained to fly by famous west coast aviator Glenn Curtiss, but it wasn’t easy as Scott attests: “In those days, they didn’t take you up in the air to teach you. They told you this and that. You got in. They kissed you good-by and trusted to luck you’d get back.”
Younger sister to Katherine Stinson, the first woman to do a loop maneuver, Marjorie decided she wanted to fly as well. At the age of 18 in 1914, she enrolled in the Wright school in Dayton and received her pilot’s license later that year. She joined her sister in creating the Stinson School in San Antonio and together they trained pilots from Canada for WWI.
In 1927, Elinor Smith became the youngest person to receive a pilot’s license at the age of 16 when Dayton’s own Orville Wright signed her pilot’s license in France. Smith then became the first pilot to maneuver an airplane under all four of New York City’s bridges, earning the frustration of NYC’s mayor at the time.
While not a pilot, Gardner was a lifelong fan of mathematics and languages and was a prolific aeronautical engineer working to translate technical literature from Italian, French, and German. She spent five years working at Wright Field and in 1939 Gardner was inducted as a full member to the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences (IAS), which was opposed to admitting women at the time but included Gardner as a tribute to her work.
Ann Baumgartner Carl
As a member of the WASP (Women Air Force Service Pilots) in World War II, Carl was transferred to Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. While in Dayton she became the first female test pilot as well as the first woman to fly a jet (Bell YP-59A) on October 14, 1944.
Geraldine ‘Jerrie’ Mock was bored with being a stay at home mother to her three children, so she decided she wanted to see the world. She made a plan to fly her plane around the globe, setting the record for the first woman to do so in 1964. Mock named her plane Spirit of Columbus (as in Columbus, Ohio) and started her around-the-world journey from Port Columbus (now known as John Glenn International Airport or CMH).
Zoe Dell Lantis Nutter
Careers don’t get more varied than that of Zoe Dell Lantis Nutter. Starting off as a dancer, Nutter was asked to work at Treasure Island, a man-made island in the San Francisco bay, as the official hostess of an aviation exhibition. After a surgery ended her dancing career, she took up flying and received her pilot’s license. While working for an aviation company, she met Ervin Nutter and later married him and moved to Dayton, Ohio where she developed a stainless-steel manifold to replace weaker aluminum manifolds in aircraft. She was also the first woman president of the Aviation Hall of Fame in 1988.
Born in Dayton, Lynn rose through the ranks at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati but began taking commercial flying lessons as a hobby. She discovered a passion for flying, and aerobatics (aerial acrobatics) in particular and decided to purchase a Pitts S-2B biplane and begin performing in air shows. Lynn worked as a flight instructor, consultant, and motivational speaker.
Captain Leigh Larkin
Dayton native, Captain Larkin won the Mackay Trophy, which is an annual award for “most meritorious flight of the year” by the United States Air Force in 2010. She took part in a combat mission near Turkmenistan in Afghanistan that was successful thanks to Larkin’s quick thinking and hard work.
In 1934, a Women’s National Air Meet was held at the Dayton International Airport and now each year the Ninety-Nines return to Dayton for their conference and career exposition, taking time to explore the region’s aviation history as well as other cultural offerings. Dayton is the birthplace of Aviation and as long as aviation has been possible, women have piloted airplanes and helped to engineer them as well. On International Women’s Day we celebrate women all over the globe, including the women who paved the way for female pilots and aeronautical engineers today.
Celebrate aviation with us this summer at Runway Fest!