Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 662
Fly Girls traces the often rocky path of aviation for women. At a time when women had just been given the vote, there were very few women who had pilot's licenses and there was real resistance to them flying at all, let alone flying in the profitable and dangerous plane races because:
These races were often fatal for pilots. Too risky for discerning men and, according to many men and the media, no place at all for women. In the late 1920s, newspapers and magazines routinely published articles questioning whether a woman should be allowed to fly anywhere, much less in these races. That such questions could be posed—and taken seriously—might strike us today as outlandish. But they were all too typical of the age. American women had earned the right to vote only a few years earlier and laws still forbade them to serve on juries, drive taxicabs, or work night shifts. It is not surprising, then, that the few women who dared to enter the elite, male-dominated aviation fraternity endured a storm of criticism and insults.
Despite the hostile environment, there were women who wanted to pursue flight. Often they had supportive families who were willing to help them with the logistics and financial details, though many also had to get jobs to pay for their aviation goals.
Keith O'Brien writes about several women who defied the odds to take to the sky. One is Ruth Elder, a woman with an independent spirit, who wanted to be the first woman to fly to Paris. When asked whether her dreams of flying were worth the risk, she showed her passion by saying:
"I've lived for a while without amounting to a plugged nickel," she told one reporter after arriving in New York. "I want to do something that will make people notice me, that may give me an opportunity to get somewhere in the world."
"Is it worth risking your life?" the reporter asked.
"Yes, it is," she replied.
She does eventually achieve fame and makes money. She has movie deals and flying and winning races. However, it all went away. She said, "The money flipped through my fingers and soon there was nothing." She ends up getting married, changing even her first name to remove herself from her earlier fame, and trying to kill herself. She ends up going back to an earlier husband and settling down with him.
Many of the women had worse endings to their stories. O'Brien writes:
Ruth Nichols’s suicide was, for Thaden, the hardest defeat of all. She could handle Earhart’s disappearance and the violent plane crashes that had killed Florence Klingensmith, Frances Marsalis, and others. "But when someone you love takes their own life,” Thaden said, “it’s different."
The women had to brave dangerous machinery, the insults of certain segments of the public, the notoriety that came with being a female pilot, and other difficulties. There weren't happy endings for everyone. But they made an impact. O'Brien says:
But for a few years, before each of the women went missing in her own way, these female pilots captivated a nation, racing across the ocean or across the country, hoping to beat one another and longing to beat the men. At times, a hundred thousand people swarmed dusty airfields to watch them compete, darting through the sky in their colorful planes of robin’s-egg blue and pale orchid, scarlet red and gleaming white, purple and cream and cobalt and silver, and racing—an impossible tale playing out in a deadly sky in an unforgiving time.
They took the steps they did and paved the way for other women with similar dreams. Though they often suffered tragedy, they were trailblazers and their actions captivated America for a period of time. Each had different motivations for wanting to fly and a different goal for her future but all shared a love for getting off the ground and flying high into the sky.
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