I just logged onto the Williamsburg Public Library to reserve a copy of the new memoir, SHOOT LIKE A GIRL by Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar, a recipient of the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor Device who served three tours in Afghanistan flying Combat Search and Rescue plus Medevac missions. I couldn’t help but think about how far female pilots have come since the turn of the 19th century and era of aviation pioneers like Amelia Earhart, Bessie Coleman, and Ruth Law.
Most readers are familiar with Earhart’s accomplishments like flying solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Having lived in Chicago for many years, I was well aware of Coleman who was the first African American female pilot and is honored at O’Hare Airport. I was not familiar with Law, however, until I read about her gutsy flight from Chicago to New York in Heather Lang’s well-researched picture book biography, FEARLESS FLYER.
Is aviation a sport? Well, some might argue not, but at the turn of the 19th century, a variety of air sports events were held throughout the country. Who was Ruth Law? She was a trailblazing aviation pioneer (1887-1970) who performed daredevil tricks like spiral dives and challenged stereotypes by participating in acrobatic and altitude competitions. She bought her first airplane in 1912 from none other than Orville Wright and refused to let society's barriers hold her back from her ambitions.
FEARLESS FLYER highlights her most noteworthy accomplishment of a nonstop flight record of flying a biplane from Chicago to Hornell, New York. It was a blustery day on November 19, 1916, when she took off from Chicago’s Grant Park for this one day trip that was met with several unexpected challenges. One of my favorite illustrations in the book by acclaimed artist Raúl Colón is when she circled her plane around the Statue of Liberty. I learned that she wanted to use her skills as a pilot to fight for her country during World War I but the U.S. government did not allow women in combat roles and a bill was even introduced to allow this but was rejected.
This historically significant book is inspirational and includes photographs and additional biographical notes, plus several quotes like this one at the end that I jotted down in my journal:
“The sky was my limit and the horizon my sphere. It’s any woman’s sphere if she has nerve and courage and faith in herself. She's got to have faith in herself.”
For more information, check out Heather Lang Books