Sunday, April 26, 2015

"Women are Unfit to Fly"

So recently I substituted for a second grade class. For reading we read this short true story about a woman I had never heard of before. I have been meaning to write about her, but for some reason just have not gotten around to it. I can honestly say there is no good reason as to why I have not posted in almost two weeks, I just have not. I have wanted to write about her, so I figured I should work on it today, since I had my computer out anyways!

Ruth Bancroft Law was born May 21, 1887 in Lynn, Massachusetts. Her parents were Sarah Bancroft Breed and Frederick Henry Law. She had at least one older brother, Rodman, who eventually went on to become one of the first stuntmen. There is not much information about Ruth's childhood, but there is evidence that she was a tomboy growing up and was adventurous. When Ruth was still young she fell in love with flying and airplanes. She purchased her first airplane from Orville Wright. While Wright willingly sold her the plane he refused to teach her how to fly it, claiming that women were unfit to fly.

In the summer of 1912 she started flying lessons at Burgess Flying School and took her first flight a month later in July. The next month she took her first solo flight and in November 1912 she received her pilot's license. Her adventurous streak rolled over into her aviation career. Ruth became a competitive daredevil and was making as much as $9,000 a week doing exhibitions. After three years of flying she announced that she would be performing a loop the loop for her audience. No woman had yet completed a loop the loop. Her husband, who apparently was always nervous when she performed, was against her completing this daring feat. However, Ruth was quite capable and not only successfully completed a single loop the loop, but did two loops!! This made her the first woman to complete the loop the loop. That same year, 1915, she also became the first woman to fly at night.

The next year would prove to be another record breaking year for Ruth. One was an altitude competition, where after competing multiple times and being judged unfairly she insisted that she be judged the same as the men and at Sheepshead Bay in New York set a new record of 11, 200 feet. However, her greatest endeavor was a cross country distance record, which is is the story I read about in the class I substituted for. The former record was 462 miles, she completed a flight from Chicago to New York state, a distance of 590 miles. . The next day she flew to New York City, but had to make an emergency landing while flying over Manhattan as her engine cut out due to lack of fuel. She made this flight in November of 1916, in freezing cold weather. She wore multiple layers, with a skirt over it all, as she was a "proper lady". Crowds celebrated her record breaking flight and President Woodrow Wilson toasted her at a dinner held in her honor in December of 1916.

When the United States entered World War I the following year Ruth promptly enlisted as a pilot. She learned that she would not be allowed to fly in combat and wrote an article for the "Air Travel" magazine entitled "Let Women Fly". She was informed that she would not be allowed to fly, but would receive a uniform and could help with recruiting. She was the first woman to wear a United States Marine NCO uniform and continued to do exhibitions to raise money for the Red Cross.

After the war Ruth continued flying in exhibitions and breaking records. She once again broke an altitude record by reaching a height of over 14,500 feet in 1919. Three years later Ruth announced her retirement from flying. She stated that she had been in the limelight long enough and now it was her husband's turn. She explained by saying, "Why? Because I'm a normal woman and want a home, a baby, and everything else that goes with married life. Why, I've been married almost ten years to Charlie Oliver, the man who has managed my exhibitions, and scarcely anyone knew who he was. And the poor boy was so worried about me all that time that every time I went up he lost a pound. It was a matter of choosing between love and profession. Of course, I'm just crazy about flying, but one's husband is more important!"  

After her retirement Charlie and Ruth moved to California where they lived for almost fifty years. Ruth died on the first of December, 1970 at the age of 83.