Those Wonderful Women in Their Flying Machines Essay - Critical Essays

Sally Van Wagenen Keil


Those Wonderful Women in Their Flying Machines will be of interest especially for students interested in biography, aviation, military history, United States history, human rights, and psychology. Though Keil is telling the heroic stories of United States pilots, she avoids sentimentalizing their experiences. Her sketches include flaws in the characters of her subjects, who make mistakes and suffer from the mistakes of others. Some crash, some lose their nerve, and a few resign. Through the depth of her psychological profiles, Keil brings back the young pilots, most of whom were eighteen to thirty-five years old, and shows how they responded to a world at war.

American and global history is intermingled with these biographies. These portions are particularly well written for younger readers, as Keil keeps her historical accounts lively and relevant. For her adult readers, she presupposes a knowledge of United States policies and world events, but she includes sufficient information so that younger readers can understand not only the human motives but also the national and global motives behind the events.

Keil’s primary purpose in writing Those Wonderful Women in Their Flying Machines is embedded in the biography’s title. Keil, herself an aviator, is the niece of a World War II female B-17 pilot. According to the author’s note, her deceased aunt’s memorabilia contains nothing but “photographs from her flying years, her graduation certificate from Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, in 1943, and a WASP roster.” Keil researches these “unknown heroines” and thereby fills a gap in the history of World War II.

The dominant theme of the biography is that of the struggle for women’s rights. The women who flew for the United States in World War II were not militarized by the government, though most of them wanted to be. Therefore, they assumed the duties but were denied many of the rights and privileges of military service. Keil shows well the societal attitudes that were reflected in military policy, at times contrasting American women pilots with...

(The entire section is 862 words.)