Born Elizabeth ‘Beth’ Lippincott in 1878, Beth spent 30 years promoting women and aviation. Attending the Los Angeles National Air Races in 1928, she noted the absence of women participants. The idea that women flying airplanes was considered by most to be preposterous. Beth, as dedicated to women’s rights as she was to world peace, lost little time finding a way to support women in their endeavor to be accepted as safe and capable pilots.
Within a month of the races, Beth organized the Women’s Aeronautic Association of California. The following spring, she founded the Women’s International Association of Aeronautics (WIAA). The purpose of the WIAA was to stimulate interest and encourage the various forms of air traffic, carrying mail, passenger transportation, international races, scholarships, and the making of world records. Members of WIAA were not only ‘airminded’ Americans but included women from all parts of the world. Canada, Turkey, Australia, Peru, and Italy were just a few.
Beth’s most historically significant accomplishment was to organize the First Women’s National Air Race in 1929. She saw an all-women’s race as an opportunity to bolster the public’s awareness of the competency of women pilots. According to Beth, “The public press generally censured this outburst of ‘feminism’ in a man’s world. I encountered derision and criticism as did the earlier trail blazers, but happily, a comparative short time later, the wisdom and judgment of my idea was vindicated, which the general public had considered ‘unthinkable’ only a few years ago.”
Managing Director of the National Air Races appointed Beth to chair the Pilots and Trophies Committee. As part of her duties, she sent letters and telegrams to potential women pilots inviting them to participate in the inaugural event. By April, nine women were signed up. They included Amelia Earhart, Louise Thaden, Marvel Crosson, and Bobbi Trout. To secure trophies, Beth traveled to cities along the race route.
Of the 20 women entered in what became known as the Powder Puff Derby, 15 crossed the finish line in Cleveland to be greeted by more than 100,000 spectators. Among them stood a proud Beth.
Before her death in 1958, Beth continued to expand the WIAA to include children’s activities, organized the Women’s Aerial Police to survey the sky for reckless stunters, founded the American Stratosphere Club, and aided the war effort.
Georgia (Tiny) Broadwick was the first woman to parachute from an airplane. The American got her start in 1907 as the Doll Girl barnstorming with The Broadwicks and their Famous French Aeronauts. Her first successful parachute jump was on June 21, 1913. Tiny was an honorary 99 of the Long Beach chapter. By the time of her last jump in 1922, Tiny had parachuted over 1,000 times!
The 99s Museum of Women Pilots features exhibitions on female aviators from the earliest days to the present. Harriet Quimby and Matilde Moisant received their pilots’ licenses in 1911. These brave women took to the skies before women had the right to vote. Harriet Quimby went on to become the first woman to fly across the English Channel in 1912. Sadly, Harriet died in a plane crash that same year, and shortly after Matilde stopped flying. Many other women followed in their footsteps, picked up the torch and took to the sky.
Bessie Coleman was inspired to fly after hearing the stories of pilots returning from World War I. Unable to procure flying lessons in the United States due racial discrimination, Bessie saved her money and went to France to learn to fly. She received her license on June 15, 1921; when she returned to the States she had a successful barnstorming career. A early champion of civil rights, she had dreams of starting her own aviation school for the instruction of African American pilots, and she refused to perform at airshows unless audiences were desegregated. On April 30, 1926, Bessie and her mechanic took to the skies. The mechanic was flying that day, but lost control of the plane. Bessie fell from the open cockpit plane and did not survive. Her accomplishments were many and her legacy of being a pioneer in aviation and equal rights for both women and African Americans lives on today.