Ruth Elder, More Than a Pretty Face

 

Standing outside the "American Girl"
Ruth Elder and George Halderman (ctie.monash.edu)

Ruth Elder was more than a pretty face and a would-be actress. She would soon be an incredible pilot. She became known as the “Miss America” of aviation. 

Ruth was overcome with excitement after Charles Lindbergh’s flight. She believed that a man could fly across the ocean why not a woman. She decided she would be that women. The $ 25,000 prize would be terrific and the fame would help her movie career. 

Businessmen men were looking for a girl to make the flight and they soon picked Ruth. She was elated. Now her dream of money and fame would come true.

 She learned to fly from her instructor George Halderman who became her co-pilot on her trip across the Atlantic. She bought a plane that could fly very long distances was perfect for a trip across the ocean. Ruth named the plane ”American Girl.” All the eyes of America and the world were anxious to see this beautiful women.

After a period of time Ruth believed she was ready but on the day of departure the weather wasn’t clear enough to take off.  Ruth and George left anyway. She wanted to duplicate Lindbergh’s flight but she never made it. She crashed into the ocean due to a oil leak. She was fortunate to be picked up by a Dutch tanker only 300 miles from Paris.

Even though she didn’t reach her goal she was greeted with great fanfare in Paris and in New York. Each city gave her a ticker tape parade to honor her achievement. This was a fabulous moment for Ruth. Now she was just like Lindbergh even though Ruth’s flight was different because she didn’t reach her destination. Lindbergh was lucky to complete his flight.

Ruth was the first woman to attempt to fly across the Atlantic and set a new over water record. Ruth flew the longest flight ever by a woman. Now her name was added to the list of aviation pioneers.

She was asked to give many talks about her experiences on the flight. She earned money from the flight her and talks she made to her adoring fans.

 In 1928 Ruth starred in a movie called “Moran of the Marines.” and in 1929 in Ruth made another movie titled “The Winged Horseman.” Due to Ruth’s fame people flocked to see these movies. 

Moran of the Marines Movie Poster www.IMBd.com
The  beautiful Ruth Elder and handsome Hoot Gibson (IMDb.com)

Next Ruth entered the All-Women Air Race. Reporters asked her if she would have male pilots to help with any mechanical problems. She replied that she would do it all by herself. She wanted to make this flight for the money. She just wanted to finish the race. She know that other women had faster planes and more experience. Ruth wanted to go from Santa Monica and end up in Cleveland. That goal was enough for her. She wanted to prove that air travel was safe for women.

Like all the pilots in the derby she had trouble with sabotage problems and mechanical issues. It was a grueling eight day race over 2,759 miles still she placed fifth in the race. Quite an achievement for the beautiful woman who just wanted to be an actress. 

Hope you enjoyed this exciting ride with Ruth Elder…the pretty girl who was a unique pilot in the Golden Age of Aviation.

Ruth Elder died in 1977.

Recommended books: 

Moolman, Valerie, Women Aloft    

Walker, Mike, Powder Puff Derby: Petticoat Pilots and  Flying Flappers Jensen, Gene, Powder Puff Derby

Notaro, Laurie: Laurienotaro@gmail.com, Crossing The Horizon

Cummings, Julia, How Ruth Elders Soared Into America’s Heart.

 

 

 

 

The Women Pilots I have Profiled

Read about these women pioneer pilots. They were well-known in the 20s and 30s but today are mostly forgotten. Remember there are more than Amelia.

  • Barnes, Pancho
  • Bowman, Martie
  • Church, Ellen
  • Cochran, Jacqueline
  • Cody, Mabel
  • Elder, Ruth
  • Fahy, Claire
  • Foltz, Edith
  • Gentry, Viola
  • Gibson, Inez
  • Haizlip, Mae
  • Hoffheimer, Aline Brooks
  • Ingalls, Laura
  • Klingersmith, Florence
  • Kunz, Opal
  • Lund, Bettie
  • Markham, Beryl
  • Miller, (chubby) Jessie
  • Mirrow, Helen
  • Mock, Geraldine (Jerrie)
  • Newcomer, Edna
  • Nichols, Ruth
  • Nichols, Ruth
  • Noyes, Blanche
  • O’Donnell, Gladys
  • Omlie, Phoebe
  • Paris, Neva
  • Raiche, Bessica
  • Richie, Helen
  • Skelton, Betty
  • Snook, Neta
  • Thaden, Louise
  • Trout, Bobbie
  • Von Mach, Mary
  • Walker, Vera Dawn
  • Wells, Fay Gilles
  • Whyte, Edna Gardner
  • Woods, Jessie 

Mabel Cody’s Flying Circus

OPA LOCKA FLYING FIELD MABEL CODY FLYING CIRCUS MARCH 14, 1926 - Newspapers.com

Mabel Cody was born in 1886 and became a well-known barnstormer, wing walker and formed the Mabel Cody Flying Service. Most of the people seeing her show had never even seen a plane. She was the first woman to transfer from a speeding car up a ladder and into a plane. She was a quick learner and had the guts. It was amazing, but Mable made a living with her flying circus. Some barnstormers barely made enough money for gas. Spectators were horrified and thrilled to see Mabel. She was a daredevil and a fearless woman that could have died while doing this stunt. 

  Mabel was a true feminist’s that acted and dressed like one and believed it was more practical to dress in pants, boots and goggles when she performed. Women begged her not to try this dangerous stunt. Mabel did not give up and would perform as she planned Mabel was a woman who attracted more attention than men in their own flying circuses. She was the star of the show and the one that townspeople came to see. “Bugs” Curly Burns had completed this stunt before Mabel. 

  She was more popular because she was a woman. Mable was fearless as she danced and walked up and down it the wing. She was courageous and daring when she parachuted out of a plane. She was a quick learner and had the guts. It was amazing, but Mable made a living with her circus. Some barnstormers barely made enough money for gas in order to reach the next town. Sometimes she was hired to entertain while other times she raised money for good causes. but it probably was a publicity stunt. She believed that women should leave her alone because she had a right to do what she wanted. It was her life and would continue stunting.

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

 Mabel performed her stunts over Pablo Beach, Florida. Reporters reported that there were thousands of people that came to see her show. Unfortunately, the skies opened up and the heavy rain stopped her from doing her act. 

  In Coral Gables, Florida real estate developers had events to attract buyers. Mabel performed at these events and was quite a success.  Unfortunately, tragedy struck when Mable was doing the car to plane transfer. She fell 50 feet and was injured and closed the show. It took a long time for her to recover but she was strong and decided to join another aerial circus group. Today there are air shows performers that try to duplicate the stunts that were that were invented by Mabel. 

 

Vicky the Flyer

My Aunt Vicky stopped flying in 1938. I found a form saying that she never renewed her medical. So, I assume that she wasn’t allowed to fly again.

  There wasn’t any information about her after 1938. I wonder if she assisted in the war effort. Maybe, she worked in the canteen where service men came to unwind. She never joined the Women’s Air Service Corp. because that her flying time was limited.

  In my mind, I think she experienced prejudice because she was Jewish. Maybe not but she never joined the 99s that was open to all women that had a license to fly. She was invited but maybe she was intimated because she didn’t feel comfortable with these more experienced pilots.

 World War 11 began in 1939 and I am curious what she did with the money she was paid by husband and his family. William C. Durant, the Founder of General Motors, and the brother-in-law of Vicky’s husband also paid her to stay away from her husband.

  I surmise she used the money to travel and then to learn to fly. She probably used up all the money. She moved around to different addresses like her brothers, her sisters and my parent’s home.

  Obviously, she was broke but she still lived the high life. During the war Vicky still wore silk stockings that were hard to find. Nylon was invented in 1935 and silk was used for parachutes and was hard to find.

  Vicky also loved to drink Courvoisier an expensive Cognac. It must have been hard to find but Vicky had to live well. Some of these statements are family or true. I know she lived at my parents’ home and that my mother didn’t like Vicky. This must have caused a lot of tension because Vicky was my father’s sister.

  I remember seeing a saddle in our basement. My father told me that she owned a horse even in though The Depression was causing everyone a difficult life. I have no idea how she was able to live so high. Jewish women in the 30s didn’t travel and fly planes they just married and had children. I think my grandmother and grandfather weren’t thrilled with her lifestyle.

 I picture Vicky as a strong and courageous woman. She sure was different from other women of her generation. That’s why I love her and feel that I’m like her. It’s hard to determine that because I barely knew her. See my post called Cindy -Vick or Vicky-Cindy to learn more about my thoughts. Maybe, I just want to be like her but maybe I’m not. My parents rarely talked about her so I had to rely on the memorable I received.

  I never even knew that she was a pilot until 1986 when my father died. It was at this time that I received her memorabilia. It was filled with pictures and newspaper reports of her flying days.

  There are many gaps in my research and I am curious if my thoughts are true. I think I am like her in many ways. I am willing to try new things and I never quit. See my post called Cindy -Vick or Vicky-Cindy to learn more about my thoughts. Maybe, I just want to be like her but maybe I’m not. My parents rarely talked about her so I had to rely on the memorable I received.

  The puzzle of Vicky’s life concerns me. I wish I had asked my parents or her sister about Vicky. I never did so I have to rely on her memorabilia and my imagination. Someday I hope to fill in the pieces about the puzzle of Vicky. For now, I have to be satisfied with the Vicky that I think I know.

The History of The Ninery-Nines

The 99s were formed by Amelia Earhart in 1929. Letters were sent to 117 licensed women pilots in that same year. Of that group 99 replied and wanted to join. They joined to bring women pilots a place to find friendship with other women and to help advance the cause of women in aviation.

   Twenty-Six women gathered for this first meeting at Curtiss Field, in Valley Stream, Long Island, New York. The women ate cookies and drank tea but those attending were there to decide their aviation future. They felt that women needed guidance to enter air races, assisting them getting more experience in aviation. These were lofty goals in 1929 because their families objected strongly. They believed that flying was too dangerous and not ladylike. 

  They met after the first All Women’s Air Derby. In that race the women pilots faced continual discrimination from male pilots. Amelia thought it was time to organize a group to help these women.

  Today members of the 99s are active in many aviation related jobs. They all have one thing in common: the love of flying. Some fly for pleasure and some for their jobs. Many chapters have flyouts where they fly to different parts of the country. The 99s also have speakers that help women learn new skills. These workshops are important to help the pilots reach new goals or refresh them with the latest updates.

  I have been a member of the Friends of the 99s for several years. I am not a pilot so I couldn’t be a member of the 99s. Therefore, I am a Friend of the 99s and have attended events where I met many wonderful women.

  My Aunt Vicky, who was a pilot in the thirties and was sent the initial letter to join the 99s. I wonder why she never joined the group. Maybe it was because she was one of the first Jewish women pilots. She earned her license in 1931 and of course there was tremendous discrimination during that time. Maybe she didn’t feel that she fit in because she was forty years old when she learned to fly. I will never know the answer to that part of the puzzle of Vicky.

Pilots and Hollywood

Hollywood Sign - Wikipedia

Through the decades aviation manufactures have had close ties to the entertainment industry. Douglas Aircraft Co. was headquartered in Santa Monica the location helped them have access to Hollywood stars. The stars were glamorous and people wanted to emulate the them. World War 11 many films were about the war and the success of the fighter planes. During the Depression the aviation industry was growing. In order to entice more people to fly they would have movie stars make talks about how wonderful it was to travel by air. 

 In 1927 Boeing had many of their planes in the motion picture “Wings” It was a silent picture that won the first Oscar for first “Best Picture.” The combination of the fighter planes in the movie made the film very accurate. 

  Passengers flying in the 30s, 40s and 50s had flew first class pricing and seating. They thought that there was a chance to sit next to their favorite star. Boeing and other plane manufacturers were consultants on the accuracy of the technical aspects of the film. As consultants they got to know the stars in the films and spread the word of the companies. Boeing and others wanted to help recreate the glamor of flying. Today that isn’t true. Passengers don’t have very many amenities. In decades past travel by air was the best way to travel.

  Boeing developed a very close relationship with the major movie studios. Even today the company has a interesting relationship with the movie industry.

Addresses Where My Aunt Vicky

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     The Shelton Hotel in New                           York

Vicky lived at these places. In her memorabilia I found that she sure did move around a lot. I believe that she was looking for a new life, just adventurous or broke.

Roosevelt Field Hotel, Mineola, New York (near Roosevelt Flying Field)

725 Sheridan Road, Chicago 

Care of General Delivery Juneau, Alaska

1932 ℅ Mrs. Lucille (babe) Hirschfield sister Chicago

1936 735 Sheridan, Chicago

3324 Indiana, Chicago

Kimball Hotel Springfield, Massachusetts 

1934 % Mrs. Lee Florsheim 534 Addison, Chicago

420 diversely 725 Sheridan, Chicago

% general delivery Juneau, Alaska

325 north 56th-second Street 

Husband Ward Lederer’s 325 West 51 St. New York

1608 South Homan Ave. Chicago

Max Goldberg uncle 5337 S. Cornell, Chicago

Vicky also lived at her sister’s Lucille’s apartment on 3923 Frontier Avenue, Chicago

629 Post Street, San Diego

The Shelton Hotel, New York

3923 Frontier Chicago ℅ Francis Florsheim brother

Francis and Isabelle Florsheim (my parents home) 2531 West Morse, Chicago

From this list you can see that Vicky moved around constantly. When she was broke she usually flopped at my parents home. She had a lot of money but she spent most of it. This was during the depression but she wasn’t on a street corner asking “Brother Can You Spare A Dime.”

 

The City of Fez In Morocco

Street Scene In Morocco

This picture shows a street scene Morocco in the late 20’s. I guess Vicky took this picture of the crowded street. I like the Fez hats the men are wearing. These hats have a conical flat crown with a tassel on the top. The Fez hats are named after the city of Fez. The men are probably walking from or to a religious event. There don’t seem to be any women there but the picture isn’t clear.

In the middle of this scene I think I see a man dressed in western clothes. He seems to be pushed along by a native man. Maybe the westerner is in trouble. This scene would make the start of a good book.

Village In Morocco

Fez, Morocco

Two men are walking down a dusty dirt road in Fez, Morocco. The native dress is so interesting but it looks so uncomfortable. They wore a djellaba which is a very loose fitting garment with a hood. This hood protects the men from the extreme heat or the cold weather in the mountains.

Vicky Sitting On The Steps Of Raymere

Vicky is sitting on the steps of Raymere with an unknown man on the left and is next to her. Raymere was the mansion of William and Catherine Durant. William or Billy, was the founder of General Motors.

Her husband, Ward is wearing the latest hair style with hair parted right down the middle. His suit looks in the style of the times. He looks very happy and is showing a wide smile. Vicky looks squished between the two men because she was a tiny lady 5’1 and 105 pounds.

The man on the left with blonde hair looks just as happy as Ward and Vicky. 1 don’t know his name but he sure looks like he is having a good time. The man in the picture must have known Vicky and Ward well from the way he is sitting so close to Vicky. He seems like a fun loving man. Later life changed for Vicky and her smile disappeared when Ward walked out of her life.