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Women in Aviation

This November, in honor of the 90th Anniversary of the Ninety-Nines’ International Organization of Women Pilots first meeting (November 2nd, 1929) at Curtiss Field, Valley Stream, NY, the Cradle of Aviation is celebrating the achievements of women in aviation through the years.


In August 1929, at the Women’s Air Derby (coined the Powder Puff Derby), a group of female pilots who shared a common bond decided to formalize their group. They sent out an invitation to join their group on October 9, 1929, and held their first meeting on November 2nd, 1929 at Curtiss Field, Valley Stream, NY. The meeting was led by Amelia Earhart, who was later elected the first president.

Of the 117 licensed women pilots of the day, 99 became charter members of the organization and took the name from their number.

The original purpose of the Ninety-Nines was for the mutual support and advancement of female pilots, “good fellowship, jobs, and a central office and files on women in aviation.” Today, membership has grown worldwide from 99 to over 5,100 hailing from 44 countries.

The bronze marker of the historic first meeting of the Ninety-Nines in Valley Stream NY is now on exhibit at the Cradle courtesy of the Long Island-NY-NJ Chapters of the Ninety-Nines.

Additionally, museum visitors can learn about, celebrate, and experience the challenges and accomplishments of women in aviation throughout our museum exhibits and on our Long Island Aviation Hall of Fame.

“In accomplishing the feat of flying, women broadened the traditional boundaries that had been set for their gender, attaining a sense of competency and achievement, contributing significantly to the progress and cause of aviation from its dawn to the present day.”

- Julia Lauria Blum, Museum Archivist and Curatorial Assistant


Women in Aviation Museum Highlights

Hempstead Plains Gallery
American women took an active role on Long Island in the development and promotion of aviation alongside their male counterparts. 

  • Blanche Stuart Scott - 1910 - The first American woman to fly solo from the Hempstead Plains (not officially recognized by the Aeronautical Society of America).
  • Bessica Raiche - 1910 - First solo flight by a woman in the United States (as declared by the Aeronautical Society of America). The plane was built in Bessica’s home in Mineola and her flight took off from the Hempstead Plains. 
  • Harriet Quinby 1911 - The first American woman to obtain a pilot’s license and the first woman to successfully fly across the English Channel in 1912.
  • Matilde Moisant 1911 - The second American woman to earn a pilot’s license at the Moisant Aviation School in Hempstead, Long Island.

The Golden Age Gallery
Flying truly came of age as the technology of aircraft underwent a revolution, turning flying from a dangerous sport to a viable commercial industry. 

  • Elinor Smith - 1928 - The youngest licensed pilot in the world at 16. She also flew under all four river suspension bridges, - a feat never accomplished by another pilot. Broke several altitude and endurance records. Resided in Freeport, Long Island. 
  • Evelyn de Seversky- A popular and respected pilot in the 1920s and 30s who kept at least one aircraft at Roosevelt Field, Long Island. She was a test pilot for the Seversky Aero Corporation, founded by her husband Alexander.

WWII
From 1942 to 1945, while men fought on the battlefronts of WWII, over 18 million American women filled civilian and military positions created as the country shifted to wartime. 

  • “Rosie the Riveter” & Civilian Women Who Served on the Homefront 
  • During WWII, most of Grumman’s 25,000 employees, half of them women, worked tirelessly in aircraft factories and shipyards, producing much-needed fighters, bombers, and battleships.
  • The WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots)- 1942 - Dec. 1944, the first American women to fly military aircraft for the US Army Air Force on the US homefront. Long Islanders include WASP Marjorie Gray, Betty Gillies, Kathryn “Sis” Fine, and Margaret Gilman.
  • Civil Air Patrol - Willa Brown- the first African American pilot of the Civil Air Patrol, a group of civilian pilots that protected our shores.

Jet Age
As commercial aviation grew on Long Island, membership in the Ninety-Nines grew by large numbers both nationally and worldwide, and roles for women in aviation increased as stewardesses, air traffic controllers, in administrative support roles, and the general aviation industry.

Space Exploration
Long Island had a major influence on the American space program. 

Sally Ride became the first American woman to go into space when she flew on the Space Shuttle Challenger in June 1983, becoming a role model for generations. Long Island Astronauts include Ellen Baker (Queens), Mary Cleave (Great Neck), and recent NASA astronaut candidate Jasmin Moghbeli (Baldwin).

Many prominent women in air & space have visited the museum to speak to school groups about their personal experiences.

These women include:

  • Scarlin Hernandez, NASA Engineer
  • Nicole Stott, Space Shuttle Astronaut
  • Ellen Baker, Space Shuttle Astronaut (Queens)
  • Marsha Ivins, Space Shuttle Astronaut
  • Mary Cleave, Space Shuttle Astronaut (Southhampton, Great Neck)
  • Heather Penney, F-16 Pilot ordered to take down hijacked plane on 9/11
  • Bonnie Tiburzi, first female Pilot for American Airlines

Scarlin Hernandez, Spacecraft Engineer for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope