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Barnes, Pancho (22 July 1901–29 March 1975), airwoman, was born Florence Leontine Lowe in San Marino, California, the daughter of Thaddeus Lowe, Jr., and Florence Mae Dobbins. The uninhibited character of Barnes’s adult life contrasts sharply with the conventionality of her background and upbringing. Born into a wealthy California family and educated at several private and convent schools, she was married at the age of nineteen to the Anglican vicar of Pasadena, C. Rankin Barnes, in 1921, giving birth to her only child, William, the same year. The marriage was not successful and the couple quickly separated, although they did not divorce until 1941. The death of her mother in 1924 made Barnes financially independent, enabling her to embark upon a life of adventure. Capitalizing upon her childhood training as a horsewoman, she obtained work as a double for several Hollywood actors in horseback scenes, as well as providing occasional screenwriting assistance to her childhood friend ...

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Beech, Olive Ann (25 September 1903–06 July 1993), cofounder and president of Beech Aircraft Corporation, was born Olive Ann Mellor in Waverly, Kansas, the youngest of four daughters of Franklin Benjamin Mellor and Susannah Miller Mellor, both originally from Ohio. As a young girl, Olive Ann moved with her family from their farm in Waverly to the larger town of Paola, Kansas, where her father became a full-time carpenter. Olive Ann managed her own bank account starting at age seven, and by eleven she was in charge of writing checks to pay the family bills. Unlike the famous flier ...

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Janet Bragg. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution (79-13664).

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Bragg, Janet (24 March 1907–11 April 1993), aviator, nurse, and nursing home proprietor, was born Janet Harmon in Griffin, Georgia, the daughter of Cordia Batts Harmon and Samuel Harmon, a brick contractor. The Batts family had long been established in Griffin. Bragg's maternal grandfather was a freed slave of Spanish descent, and her maternal grandmother was a Cherokee. Bragg's grandfather had built the house in which she and her siblings were born; her mother had been born in the same house. Bragg, the youngest of seven children, had a happy childhood, enjoying sports and games and excelling at school. In an interview conducted at the University of Arizona as part of a project called African Americans in Aviation in Arizona, Bragg reminisced: “We were a very happy family. We were not a rich family, only rich in love.”...

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Willa Brown. Shown wearing a padded flight suit. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution (90-13119).

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Brown, Willa (22 January 1906–18 July 1992), pilot and aviation educator, was born Willa Beatrice Brown in Glasgow, Kentucky, the only daughter of Hallie Mae Carpenter Brown and Eric B. Brown, a farm owner. After 1910 the family, as part of the internal migration of African Americans from the rural South to northern cities, moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, hoping for greater opportunities in employment and education. There her father worked in a creosote factory; he was also pastor of the Holy Triumphant Church in 1920 and the Free Church of God in 1929....

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Claire Lee Chennault Right, with Major General Gilbert Cheves, at the start of a softball game in China, each serving as captain of a team drawn from the men under their command, 1945. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-111-SC-203553).

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Chennault, Claire Lee (06 September 1893–27 July 1958), military officer and airline executive, was born in Commerce, Texas, the son of John Stonewall Jackson Chennault, a small-scale cotton grower, and Jessie Lee. Chennault grew up on a small farm in Franklin Parish in northeastern Louisiana. His mother died when he was eight years old. Two years later, his father married Lottie Barnes, a local schoolteacher. Educated in the nearby town of Gilbert, he entered Louisiana State University in 1909. Shortly thereafter, his stepmother, who had persuaded him to continue his education, died. “I was alone again,” he later wrote, “and really never found another companion whom I could so completely admire, respect, and love.”...

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Jacqueline Cochran Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105221).

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Cochran, Jacqueline (1910?–09 August 1980), pioneer aviator and business executive, was born in Muscogee, Florida, near Pensacola. Her parents both died during her infancy, and she was raised by foster families with whom she worked in the lumber mills of the Florida panhandle. By the age of fifteen she had also worked in a Columbus, Georgia, cotton mill and learned how to cut hair in a beauty shop. Cochran took nursing training at a hospital in Montgomery, Alabama, from 1925 to 1928, but by 1930 she had returned to Pensacola to work in a beauty salon. In 1932 she traveled to Philadelphia to work in a beauty shop and then moved in the same year to New York City, where her skill earned her a job at Antoine’s, a well-known Saks Fifth Avenue beauty shop. For the next four years she worked for this business, spending every winter working in Antoine’s branch in Miami Beach, Florida. She met ...

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Constance Porter Uzelac

Coleman, Bessie (26 January 1892–30 April 1926), aviator, was born Elizabeth Coleman in Atlanta, Texas, the daughter of George Coleman, a day laborer of predominately Indian descent, and Susan (maiden name unknown), an African-American domestic and farmworker. While Bessie was still very young, the family moved to Waxahachie, Texas, where they built a three-room house on a quarter-acre of land. She was seven when her father left his family to return to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma). The Coleman household was Baptist, and Bessie was an avid reader who became particularly interested in ...

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Amelia Earhart. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112514).

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Earhart, Amelia Mary (24 July 1897– July 1937), aviator, was born in Atchison, Kansas, the daughter of Edwin Stanton Earhart, a railroad clerk and lawyer, and Amy Otis. Earhart spent her early childhood living with her affluent grandparents in Atchison during the school year and her parents in Kansas City in the summer. A tomboy during her youth, Earhart was a leader of childhood games in her neighborhood. Her father was handsome and loving but drifted through low-paying clerk jobs and was dependent on his wife’s family for sufficient living expenses. Following the deaths of Earhart’s grandparents, the Earharts’ inheritance was put in a trust for twenty years, driving her father to despair and drink. Family life deteriorated during her teenage years as her father battled alcoholism and worked sporadically throughout the Midwest, moving his family to a series of low-rent homes....

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Egtvedt, Claire (18 October 1892–19 October 1975), engineer and aviation executive, was born Clairmont Leroy Egtvedt on a farm near Stoughton, Wisconsin, the son of Sever P. Egtvedt and Mary Rublee. Very little is known of his early life except that he spent it in and around Stoughton until the family moved to Seattle in 1911. He earned his degree in mechanical engineering in 1917 from the University of Washington and was one of three students recommended by the dean when ...

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Flügge-Lotz, Irmgard (16 July 1903–22 May 1974), aeronautical engineer, was born in Hameln, Germany, the daughter of Oskar Lotz, a journalist with a fondness for mathematics, and Dora Grupe. She attended elementary school at Frankenthal and in Mönchen-Gladbach. Providing early encouragement for his daughter’s interest in engineering and mathematics, Oskar Lotz enrolled Irmgard in a girl’s Gymnasium in Hanover, shortly before he was drafted into World War I. This military service permanently ruined his health, thereby preventing him from resuming an active professional life. Irmgard consequently had to help support her family by tutoring younger students in mathematics and Latin....

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Lindbergh, Anne Morrow (22 June 1906–07 February 2001), author and aviator, was born Anne Spencer Morrow in Englewood, New Jersey, the second of the four children of Dwight W. Morrow, an investment banker, senator, and diplomat, and Elizabeth Reeve Cutter, a civic leader and advocate for women's education. Dwight Morrow's work took him to many European capitals, and his children often traveled with him. Anne's formal education was at Miss Chapin's School in Manhattan and Smith College, where she received awards for her poetry and essays. Intelligent and extremely observant, Anne was also shy, emotional, and self-critical. She began keeping a diary in her early teens and later characterized herself as someone for whom “an experience was not finished until it was written or shared in conversation” (...

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Love, Nancy (14 February 1914–22 October 1976), aviator and government official, was born Hannah Lincoln Harkness in Houghton, Michigan, to Robert Bruce Harkness, a successful medical doctor, and Alice Graham Chadbourne Harkness. Nicknamed Nancy by her family, she graduated from Milton Academy in Massachusetts and then enrolled in Vassar College in 1931. She withdrew from Vassar in 1934, however, as her parents could no longer afford the tuition because of the Great Depression....

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