Women in Competition

women-langley-day

Some of the women who competed at the 1933 Langley Day.  Left to right are Helen McCloskey, J.O. Busse, Grace Raezer and Frances Wilke.  A Washington Herald photo.

One of the more interesting parts of our story concerns the substantial number of women who flew and took parts in the competitions that Chet coordinated. This is not just a “hindsight” kind of thing; it garnered a good deal of attention at the time as well.

Aviation was still a new technology in the 1930’s, and attitudes about “roles” weren’t as fixed about flying as they were about other activities. Moreover many of the women who flew came from the upper reaches of society, which put the whole role of women in a different light than elsewhere.

Women competed in the Washington Air Derby and both Langley Days. Usually (but not always) they competed in separate competitions, as was the custom at the time. For example, at the 1933 Langley Day, the 30-mile handicap for women pilots was won by Helen McCloskey of Pittsburgh.

There were other competitions for both men and women pilots together. For example, on 21 October 1933 there was a “Treasure Hunt” from College Park Airport. The twelve contestants were given successive clues as to where they were to go. The first stop was Hoover Field; from there they went to Hybla Valley Airport, then Beacon Airport, on to Congressional Airport and finally back to College Park.The event was won by Genevieve Savage, president the following year of the Washington Women Pilots Association. (Maybe that’s why they competed elsewhere separately!)

Amelia Earhart and the NAA

Amelia Earhart (usually referred to in those days as Amelia Earhart Putnam) was and is America’s best known aviatrix of the 1930’s. At the time of the 1932 Air Derby she was Vice-President of the NAA. The following year, as the 1933 Langley Day closed and the OX-5 competitions became history while unsanctioned, she resigned as the NAA’s vice president. In a statement she noted the following:

I feel that increasingly the association has been too inclined to undertake nonessential promotional work. Thus, it has published a monthly magazine, it has striven to build up a large membership and has spent considerable effort in promoting various activities I believe better handled by outside agencies.

Finding myself at variance with the views of those who dominate the organisation, I feel that it is for the best interests of all concerned that I resign.

Although the two disputes were unrelated, they offer an interesting confluence of people and events. Her resignation and the OX-5 flap are two concurrent examples of two “free spirits” who didn’t like the way “management” was handling things.

wam-11934 Washington Women’s Air Meet

An interesting competition that Chet was involved in on an executive level was the 1934 Washington Women’s Air Meet, sponsored by the Washington Women Pilots Association (it was also sanctioned by the NAA.) The event took place at College Park 13-14 October 1934. Earlier that year, the Washington Air Derby Association had opened its membership to women; its first women members were Johanna Busse, Edna M. Gardner, Harriett Sackett, C.M. Savage and Helen Frigo.

Chet’s abiding interest in women’s aviation–and his experience in organising air derbies–led to his appointment as Contest Chairman for the event. Chet and his wife Myrtle also sponsored a cocktail reception and dinner dance the evening of the 13th at the Congressional Country Club. In addition to the competitions, which included spot landing, bomb dropping, a 25 mile handicap race, acrobatic contest, and parachute jumps, it was also an opportunity for the “Middle Eastern 99ers” to meet as well.

The cover for the program is shown at the left–you can click here to download the entire program. Also for download is the Entry Blank. The disclaimer is typical of air meets at the time; the complete use of the female gender in the legal language is not.

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