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