Fay Gillis Wells

The Ninety-Nines, Inc.® on Twitter: "Fay Gillis Wells earned her pilot's license in 1929. She was hired by Curtis Wright to demonstrate & sell their aircraft across the United States. She also

                                                   Fay In Her Self Designed Flying Suit


  Fay Gillis Wells was born in 1908 in Minneapolis, Minnesota and was well-known for her contributions to aviation. She was a charter member of the 99s. In 1929 Amelia formed the group called the 99s named for the 99 women pilots who responded to a letter sent by Fay Gillis Wells. The letter asked the women if they wanted to go to join the 99s and come to the first meeting. Amelia became the president and Fay wa appointed secretary of the organization.

 In my aunt’s memorabilia I found a letter signed by Fay Gillis Wells and twenty-two women that attended this first meeting. It was sent to all 117 women pilots and ninety nine women joined. That’s why the group is named the 99s.

Women at the meeting were very well dressed even though they met in a hangar at Curtis Field but Fay wore overalls, a helmet and goggles. Amelia thought that they needed each other’s support because they were in a man’s world.

I learned that my aunt never became a member of the 99’s. Aunt Vicky was one of the first Jewish women pilots and there was a lot of discrimination at that time. Maybe she felt uncomfortable joining but I really don’t believe that this was her reason. The organization was open to any woman who had a pilot’s license and Vicky received her license in 1931 when she was 40 years old. Maybe she felt she was too old or not an experienced pilot like so many in the 99’s. 

    In the 1930s she was a freelance correspondent in the Soviet Union and also wrote for New York Herald Tribune, the Associated Press, and many aviation magazines.

  In 1934 Fay married Linton Wells who was also a journalist. He asked her to help cover the Italian- Ethiopian war. She accompanied him and they both wrote articles for the New York Herald Tribune. Fay thought this trip would be exciting but she wished that they could go on a honeymoon instead. She chose Ethiopia. 

  Wiley Post asked Fay if she wanted to go on his trip around the world. She told him no because she had made up her mind to go to Ethiopia with her husband. Instead, Wiley asked Will Rogers to go with him. Unfortunately, they both died in a plane crash.

  When Fay and Linton returned to New York where she purchased a cheetah and a leopard. These two unusual pets lived with the couple in their apartment. When they moved to California the pets came with them. 

   Fay was the first member of the Caterpillar Club. She used a parachute to leave a disabled plane in order to save her life.

  This feisty woman was the first woman to sell aircraft. It makes me think of my Aunt Vicky who also sold and demonstrated planes for manufactures. 

  Fay and her husband were asked by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to go to Africa to look for a possible homeland for the Jewish people. She was a White House correspondent for thirteen years covering news for Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter. She was asked by President Nixon to go with him and write articles on his historic trip to China.

  Fay also went to the Soviet Union and wrote about their aviation and demonstrated the country’s planes. She was the first woman to fly in the Soviet Union.

In the late 30s Fay ended her life in flying when she did not renew her license. In 1946 her only son Linton Wells 11 was born in Angola. Then they returned back to the United States.

  Fay never lost her interest in aviation. In 1962 she helped introduce a stamp to honor Amelia Earhart. She announced this at the 99’s first international convention. 

  In 1976 Fay was instrumental in forming the International Forest of Friendship. The arboretum has trees from every state and many different countries. It honors Fay Gillis Wells for her contributions to aviation and journalism. When you walk through this beautiful place you can see plaques from other famous aviators.

 At 92 Fay flew and landed a plane. That’s an incredible accomplishment that few women or men had done. Fay died in November 2002 at the age of 94. Her legacy still lives on in the International Forest of Friendship. 

Read about Fay’s experiences in aviation and journalism. 

In the Air and On the Air by Lillian F. Brinnon and Howard J. Fried


Amelia Earhart and her Fashion Line

Amelia Earhart: Using Fashion to Inspire Flight | National Air and Space Museum

                                                   (Smithsonian Air and Space Museum) 

  Few people today know that Amelia Earhart had a line of clothes in the 30s. She is said to have designed them herself. Today you can only see her clothing at museums like the Hanford Carnegie Museum. Her clothing line was called “Amelia Fashions” and she was the first celebrity to produce a line of clothes. It consisted of dresses, trousers, and suits. They ranged from casual sport clothes to elegant dresses.

   As a child she sewed her own clothes and then she became interested in fashion as an adult. Amelia wanted money to finance her long distance flights. Amelia’s husband, George Putnam wanted her to make speaking engagements and write books and all she wanted to do was fly. It seems that he controlled her life so that he could make money.

  Amelia’s line began in 1933 and could be bought at Macy’s, Marshall Fields and many other well-known stores across the country. In the beginning the clothes sold very well but the sales because the clothes were were moderately priced. She was an icon and she assumed that her clothing would sell quickly just like her books. George probably was angry when the clothes stopped selling. He was hoping that he wouldn’t have to put in any of his own money. The books, the speaking engagements and then the clothing would cover the costs of her trips.

Women’s Home Companion featured her patterns so women could make them at home. This idea was part of Amelia’s help women save money. The public only saw pictures of Amelia where she wore goggles, a bomber jacket and a scarf. When women were aware of her clothing they were surprised because they had only seen pictures of her in her flight attire.

   She was determined to make clothes for women pilots. The flying suits that existed in the 20s were made for men so she decided to design a suit that fits a woman’s body. She did this in her hotel room with George supervising every detail. He thought of her as his “cash cow” and that she would make him wealthily and famous.

   Amelia was the first woman who made separates like skirts and blouses or suit jackets. Her clothes were washable which was very important in this hard economic time. These two pieces could be interchangeable and could accommodate women that needed a jacket in one size and a skirt in another. This idea backfired because women wouldn’t have to buy as many outfits. She and George liked the idea it but cut sales.  

   Women began driving a car, going on a vacation by plane and even played sports. This change in society made Amelia know that women needed clothes that would be comfortable and fit properly. Amelia was annoyed that women’s shirts never stayed in the skirt. She designed one that was longer than average and stayed tucked in. When flying long distance Amelia had to stop in various towns along the way. She would be greeted by the town officials so she changed out of her flying clothes and wore more appropriate ones. They had a banquet dinner for her and then she gave her talk about her experiences during her flights. She didn’t like to give talks at all. Amelia just wanted to fly to the next town. George made all these arrangements so that there were no problems for Amelia or him.

  Her clothing line was aeronautically themed. She included buttons shaped like propellers and hats made from parachute silk. That seems so unusual that women who admired her would automatically want her clothes. The line was popular for a time but sales dwindled quickly.

  It was believed that Amelia didn’t make the clothes herself but her personality was seen in them. In public Amelia was dressed elegantly and was featured in Vogue and Cosmopolitan magazines. She even worked as an editor for Cosmopolitan and modeled for ads. Some of Amelia’s clothing emphasizes her mannish look but this was really not true because she was a beautiful woman who had a style all her own. She enjoyed wearing neutral colors and sometimes layered neutral colors. Colorful scarves were important part of her wardrobe because they added class to the neutral colors. 

  The depression and her aviation activities caused the demise of her line of clothing. Still in 1934 she was named  one of the best dressed Women in America by the Fashion Designers of America. It was very important for Amelia to promote women’s rights like women’s right to vote. Amelia Earhart was known for her flying expertise but she cared about women and their role in society. She felt that women should be accepted in non traditional roles. It’s interesting  to know that Amelia was more than a pilot. 

The world lost a very daring and brave woman on her last flight. There are many theories about what happened to Amelia but her achievements will last for ever. Amelia disappeared on July 2, 1937 and was declared dead.

20 hrs.,40 minutes   1928

The Fun Of It             1932

 Last Flight                 1938

Maggie Gee A Chinese-American WASP

Women in Transportation History: Maggie Gee, Chinese-American Aviation Pioneer – Transportation History

                                                                           ( Transportation History)

Maggie Gee was another Chinese-American pilot like Hazel Ying Lee. Maggie was born in 1923 in Berkeley, California and wanted to fly from a very young age like her idols Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh.

   She and Hazel were the only Chinese – Americans in the WASPS. Intensive training was for six weeks. It was difficult but Maggie came out on top and became a WASP and wore her silver wings with pride.

  She attended the University of California but dropped out to work as a draftsman at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Then in 1941 World War 11 started and Maggie decided to learn to fly and join the Women’s AirForce Service Pilots. She moved to Nevada and took flying lessons and after fifty hours of flying she was eligible to be a WASP. Then she travelled to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas to start her training. 

   Like Hazel, she ferried planes from factory to air bases. One of Maggie’s missions was to co-pilot a B-17 in demonstrations to train bomber gunners. She wasn’t allowed to fly in the war but she did train men in various new piloting skills they would need in combat.

   After the WASPS were disbanded in 1994 she returned to resume her schooling at the University of California. While attending school she worked at The University of California Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. At the lab she worked many hours designing nuclear weapons, fusion energy and even devoted her time to help with cancer research.

   Maggie became active in politics because she wanted to help her country in any way possible. She worked hard for the 1992 Democratic Central Committee to improve voter registration. Her most important work was to assist the Asian Pacific Islander Caucus.

  In 2009 she and other WASPS were given the Congressional Gold Medal for their service. These women were finally given credit for the hard work they did to help the war effort. Maggie and others should have been honored before. They were given the same training as men and flew many different kinds of planes. Maggie felt recognition was important to next generation of women pilots.

   Maggie Gee died February 1, 2013 and was 89 years old. A strong and dedicated woman that became an honored pilot and dedicated citizen. 


Hazel Ying Lee

Hazel Ying Lee - Wikipedia

  She Never Quit

Hazel Ying Lee was born in Portland, Oregon in 1912and lived with her family in Chinatown. It was very crowded but they did lived the best they could. There was so much Chinese discrimination in the 30s and 40s but she didn’t let that bother her and had a normal childhood. .

  By 1932 she was had her first airplane ride. She was fascinated and knew she had to learn to fly. She joined a Chinese Flying Club and took lessons so she could get her license. Her mother objected but she knew that she loved the challenge and taking chances.

  Hazel was one of the first Chinese-American women to receive her pilots license and it was an honor for the Chinese community. She wanted her family to be proud of her and other Chinese girls to know that their was a future for them. Chinese women were taught to be shy and submissive. Hazel was just the opposite. She was strong, brave and determined to be proficient and not just a Chinese pilot.

  Hazel went back to China in 1933 to help fight the invading Japanese. She never achieved that goal. This time it wasn’t her race that kept her down but it was the fact that she was a woman. No women were allowed in the Chinese Air Force at that time.

  Hazel was upset but found other ways to help her countrymen. The war was escalating and many people were killed but Hazel remained calm. She found housing for her Chinese friends and family. Without Hazel they would have never have survived.

  She tried to enter the Chinese Air Force again but was turned down a second time. After this she was able to escape to Hong Kong and then back to the United States. In America she worked worked for the Chinese government by purchasing war materials. Everything changed on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. This brought a declaration of war. 

  Soon a group called the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots was formed by Jacqueline Cochran to allow women to help the men in the war. Hazel trained for six month at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas. The training was very vigorous but Hazel passed and officially became a WASP. She became the first Chinese woman to fly for the United States military. To be a WASP a women had to have high school certificate, a flying license and experience in flying. 

  The government of the United States would not allow WASP military pay or benefits and no military funeral would be allowed for these women. They were paid less than men and had to pay for room and board and even uniforms. They worked seven days a week and it was a grueling work experience.

  The WASP flying was difficult because they had to fly in open cockpit planes at night. The military was worried about an attack on United States soil so all the lights were dimmed or covered in case of an attack.

  Hazel had two forced landings. She landed in a farmers field when her plane malfunctioned. The farmer  thought that she was part of the invasion of the United States. He chased her around the plane and damaged it until she convinced him that she was part of the United States Air Force.

  After graduation from this training program Hazel and her other Wasp friends had to deliver planes to the areas where they would be flown to Europe and the Pacific war areas. The WASPS delivered over 5,000 fighter planes to their destination. Women were not allowed to fly for the United States military or fly overseas. Their duty was to deliver planes to various locations. This allowed it to be available for fighting in the European and Pacific wars. They transported men to take them to ships to go overseas.

  Hazel was sent for intensive pursuit training. She was the first woman to fly for the military.  Hazel was one of the few women pilots that were trained for towing targets and helped gunners to be able to practice flying at specific targets

Severe weather conditions occurred but cleared when she was approaching Great Falls. Hazel crashed into one. This caused a horrible accident and Hazel’s plane was engulfed in flames. She was very lucky to still be her military planes landing at the airport at the same time. Hazel crashed into one of the fighter planes. alive. Two days later she died of her injuries. She died on ?

parents were notified of her death and on the same day they found out that her brother was killed in action in France.

The law stated that no Asian person could be buried in a white only cemetery. The family protested and finally brother and sister were laid to rest and were the only non white people buried in this cemetery. She was not given a military funeral because the WASPS were considered civilians not military personnel

  There were 1,000 women that joined the WASPS and 38 died in service to their country. Hazel was last one to die. In 1977 these women we’re finally recognized as veterans and received full benefits. They became the first official women pilots in the United States military. Lee was inducted in the Pioneer Hall of Fame. 

We must remember that it took a long time for the WASPS to be recognized as equal to men in the military. There is still discrimination but most men know that women play an important role in the defense of the United States. Hazel was one of those women who helped women and minorities find a place in the service of their country.

Leah Hing: A Chinese American Pilot


Clark County History: First Chinese American woman pilot - Columbian.com

                          Chinese American Pilot Who Aided Chinese Immigrants (Columbian.com)

Leah Hing is one the most unusual pilots I have profiled. All of these women are unique in their own ways but Leah was the first Chinese American to obtain a pilot’s instrument mechanics license. After  a 15 minute lesson she was able to fly and land a plane. The instructor was amazed because no one he had ever taught was able to catch on so quickly.

  Leah’s goal was to teach Chinese women how to fly. Like others I have profiled, she wanted to prove that women could fly as well as men. She became known because of the newspaper articles about her and was called the “Chinese Miss Lindy.”

  China was in turmoil when the Japanese invaded Manchuria in 1931. She was living in Portland and it became the center For a Chinese flying school. The school wanted to train students to become fighter pilots in the second Sino-Japanese War. 

  Leah told her father that she wanted to go to China and fight the Japanese. She said that we have family there and I want to help as a fighter pilot. He would not allow her to go but he bought her a plane and she flew in many air shows across the West Coast. She logged 200 hours of flying time but still wished she could have gone back to China.

  Leah like many  pilots had her share of accidents. In 1936 a plane taxied into her plane and it caught on fire. She was lucky that no one else was in the plane and that she was not injured. She flew an open cockpit plane and crashed and when she was landing in Seattle. The plane was damaged but again she was not hurt. 

  Leah was angry that her father wouldn’t let her go back to China to help the Chinese fight the invading Japanese. So she remained in Portland and was became active in the West Coast Civil Air Patrol. She was also a member of the 99s which was an advocacy group for women pilots formed and was formed in 1929.

  Her pilot’s license expired in 1947.  She wanted to join Portland’s Aero Club but was not allowed because she was Chinese. Leah had many jobs and was active in the Chinese community in Portland. She was sad that her flying days were over but she was glad to just be a passenger.

 She was a volunteer that helped Chinese immigrants attain United States citizenship. This was a very difficult time due to the Chinese exclusion act of 1882. This act only allowed 105 Chinese to enter the United States. It took until 1943 that Chinese people in the United States could become naturalized citizens. 

She died in 2001 from heart failure. Those that knew Leah Hing believed that she loved her life and didn’t stop doing what she loved.


Claire Fahy


Claire Fahy (1899?-1930) Photograph by Granger                                                                        Claire Fahy (fine Art America)

    Claire Fahy was a socialite born in 1899. She was married to Herbert Fahy who was an army pilot and a test pilot for Lockheed. The two of them flew often together.

  She was a member of the first all women air race. There were fifteen women in the race but CIaire was the first one to drop out. She had a forced landing in Calexico, Mexico because of engine problems. She believed that her plane had been sabotaged. Many of the women in this important race felt their planes were sabotaged also. This tampering may have caused the death of Marvel Crosson when her plane crashed. After the women’s race she and her husband planned to fly around the world. This didn’t happen because her husband died in a plane crash while he was testing a plane. Claire was not injured.

  About nine months after her husband died in a crash she also died in one. Claire was attending an air circus in Nevada and on the way back to California her motor stalled and she crashed. Claire died in 1930 after being taken to the hospital.

  In her obituaries she was said to be a very competent pilot in many air races. It is sad that Claire Fahy died at such a young age. During her flying career she showed the incredible ability of women pilots. She was only 30 years old and who knows what future records she might have accomplished.


Ethel Dare Stunt Woman

Wing walker awed locals - News - The St. Augustine Record - St. Augustine, FL

                                                                        From Car To Plane                        

Ethel “Ethel Dare” Gilmore Johnson became the most famous wing walker in the country. She answered an advertisement for a woman who would jump off the wing of a plane. It was 1917 and she was performing in the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Ethel was up to the challenge and took the name of Ethel Dare. Her name sure fit her. According to reports she didn’t seem scared at all.    Ethel looked death in the eye every time she performed. Some of her outrageous stunts took spectators breath away. 

  There was a controversy about who was the real Ethel Dare. Several people claimed that they were.  Some say she was Ethel Mann Dare, or Ethel Gilmore Harris or Lady Anomar. She was married three times and Ethel performed under different names. 

  • She was the first person to jump from one speeding plane to another. Ethel did this 30 times.
  • She performed jumps into Lake Michigan in Illinois.
  • She washed her hair while standing on the wing of a plane.
  •  At a state fair in Nashville, Ethel completed two of the most perfect balloon drops. Newspapers reported that her stunt was the best ever performed. 
  • She tested parachutes.

  In her last performance luck wasn’t on her side. Ethel started her wing-walking when she fell more than 700 feet because her parachute did not open. She died in 1924. Today there are acts that use wing-walkers but in 1920 it must if been incredible to see Ethel Dare. Most people had never even seen a plane before. There were women that thought it should be against the law to do such dangerous stunts. Other women thought that they belonged in the kitchen not walking on a wing of a plane.

  Few people have hear of Ethel Dare. It is my pleasure to bring her out of the shadows.  

Wilma Brown – A Determined Woman


Preview(opens in a new tab)

              Willa Brown - Wikipedia                                                                  

 Wilma wanted the federal government to admit black pilots into the segregated Army Air Corps and the civilian pilot training program. The Army War College said blacks would never be accomplished pilots but Wilma proved them wrong. Two hundred pilots were trained by the Coffey School went on be part of the Tuskegee Airmen.

  It was amazing that in 1946 Wilma was the first black to run for Congress. She didn’t win but she was a strong and ambitious woman to attempt this high position in the government. For the rest of her life she fought to have the Army Air Corps to become an integrated force. She was honored to be member of the Federal Aviation Administration Women’s Advisory Board.

In 1948 President Truman wrote an executive order to desegregate the military. This was very important to Wilma and was pleased that one of her goals did come true.

Wilma Brown should be remembered as the person who helped black men and women pilots to be known as pilots not black pilots. Today they are serving in all areas of aviation and they owe that right to Wilma Brown.



Janet Harmon Bragg

Janet Harmon Bragg: Female Aviator | Smithsonian Institution Archives

 Most of my posts have centered on women pilots of the 20s and 30’s. I have decided to tell you the story of continuing discrimination in the 40s. 

  Janet Bragg was a black woman who wanted to receive her pilot’s license. White instructors didn’t allow her to receive it. In 1943 she did receive her license at  Pal- Waukee Airport near Wheeling, Illinois. 

  Janet was a nurse but her goal was to become a pilot. In 1933 she became the only women that enrolled in the Curtis Wright School of Aeronautics. She was very interested in aircraft mechanics even with the objection from the men she passed the tests.

  Interesting to note that she wasn’t able to fly out of an airport that was owned by a white man. Janet was very driven and decided to help fund an airport in Robbins, Illinois because Robbins was an all black town. What a perfect place for black women and men to learn to fly. 

  This strong and ambitious lady earned her license to fly but was turned down when she wanted to enter the Women’s Auxiliary Service Pilots known as the WASPS. She trained for her commercial pilots license but her first examiner wouldn’t give her the license because she was a woman and black. She finally did receive her commercial license from another instructor.

 Because Janet was a nurse Janet was turned down when he applied to be a military nurse. She was told that there were too many Negro nurses at that time. We all know the truth that she was turned down because she was a woman. 

  In 1939 Janet started the only program to help blacks learn to fly. The Civilian Pilot Training Program would train black people that wanted to learn to fly.

  Soon there was a need for pilots to help in the World War 11 effort to fly the wounded men to bases with hospitals. Again discrimination reared its ugly head. She was turned down again.

  In 1943 Janet met Jacqueline Cochran, who helped found the WASPS. She still wasn’t allowed to join. 

  Janet was determined to help Negro women to become pilots. She began to write for the Chicago Defender newspaper which served the Negro community called The “Negro in Aviation. 

  Was in the forefront of being a founder and chairman member of the Challenger air pilots Association and later was named the Coffey School of Aeronautics. This was a National Air group for black pilots. This group was influential in the start of the Tuskegee Army Airmen. In 1941 President Truman allowed black men into the military.

  Janet stopped flying in 1965 but continued her speaking about the need for more women in aviation. Janet’s efforts led to women becoming hired in many fields of aviation. Today they are pilots, mechanics, even in the military. When Janet was flying most people thought that black women couldn’t perform as well as whites. Janet proved them wrong and black women working in aviation today should know about Janet Bragg and be thankful to her for leading the way.




Clara Adams: Flies Around The World


  Clara Adams | Airships.net

                                                          World Traveler As A Passenger (airships.net)

 Clara Adams was the first person to fly around the world not as a pilot but as a passenger. She was very adventurous and wealthy.  In 1914 she took her first flight in a flying boat that flew from Rio de Janeiro to New York. Clara believed that she could fly around the world and be an advocate for flight. If a woman could do this anyone can. 

  She was very brave because there were many crashes in the 30 but she didn’t care. She started her flight from New York to Bermuda and then San Francisco and New Zealand. We all know that Amelia Earhart was the first person to fly round across the Atlantic ocean but Clara was the first passenger.

She was also the first woman to fly on the Graf Zeppelin in 1938 and the maiden flight of the Hindenburg.  The Graf Zeppelin was an hydrogen filled airship it was made to fly across the Pacific Ocean. She made another first by flying from New York to Bermuda. Clara also flew across the Pacific one year before the horrid crash of the Hindenburg. Even after that she was still determined to fly. 

 Clara flew on a commercial airline for nineteen days. Her next trip was on the Dixie Clipper to cross the Atlantic. She was thrilled to make stops in the worlds  most famous European cities.

  In 1939 Clara achieved the honor of first passenger to fly around the world. Those who knew Clara well thought that she was a wealthy lady but didn’t live like one. Only in her travels did she seem like a lady to be admired. She always dressed very plain and never looked or acted like a wealthy lady. Clara was a showoff and loved to sign autographs and gave speeches about her travels. She enjoyed reading about herself in newspapers and magazines. For a short time Clara was a celebrity and enjoyed the limelight. 

  In the 20s and 30s people were afraid of travel by air. They heard of the many crashes but they didn’t hear of those safe trip trips that were accomplished. Clara knew that flying could be dangerous but she was not fearful during her momentous trip.

  After Clara’s trip she spoke at different events and signed autographs. She wanted the notoriety and even asked for the signatures of each pilot she met. 

  When World War II began Clara’s trips were over. Civilian travel was not allowed and sadly she had to stop flying. She wanted to continue but Clara knew that it wasn’t possible. After World War 11 she was determined to continue flying.

 Age caught up with Clara and in 1971 she made her last flight and died at age 87. She wanted to be cremated and decided that she wanted her ashes to be dropped in the ocean.

She wasn’t a pilot but she helped people to believe in the value of flying. She felt it was safe and that people shouldn’t be afraid to fly. I think she was also a person who enjoyed meeting new people and the honor of accomplishing so many “firsts” in her life.