Simanaitis Says

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CALL THEM aviatrices, female flyers or airwomen (this last term making its debut in the 1910 Oxford English Dictionary). Women active in aviation hold a special place in its history.

This website has already acknowledged the accomplishments of Harriet Quimby (, Blossom Miles (, Diana Barnato Walker ( and, collectively, the World War II Russian aviatrices known as the Night Witches (

Here’s a book adding to my awe of these and other talented women.


Women with Wings: Female Flyers in Fact and Fiction, by Mary Cadogan, Macmillan, 1992. The book is listed at and An link: Women with Wings: Female Flyers in Fact and Fiction

Englishwoman Mary Cadogan started working for the BBC before World War II and became a specialist in popular and children’s fiction. Titles such as Women and Children First: The Fiction of Two World Wars and Chin Up, Chest Out, Jemina: A Celebration of the Schoolgirls’ Story give a sample of her works. I must also search out The Lady Investigates: Women Detectives and Spies in Fiction.


Mary Cadogan, English-born in 1928, author with a speciality in popular and children’s fiction. Image from Enid Blyton Day, May 9, 2009,

From the Introduction of Women with Wings, “This book is a celebration of the lives and achievements of women who have taken to the skies, from the early balloonists to contemporary astronauts.”

For example, Edwardians marveled at Dolly Shepherd, the Parachute Queen. She would perch on a trapeze outside the balloon’s basket as it rose to 5000 ft. or more. Then, to the astonishment of the balloon’s paying passengers and those on the ground, she would leap off into space.


Dolly Shepherd performs a mid-air rescue. This image, originally in Illustrated Police Budget, and others here are from Women with Wings.

Her parachute was primitive by today’s standards.  When a dual jump went awry, Dolly performed a mid-air rescue of friend Louie May (who, in regular hours, was a co-worker at the Ostrich Feather Emporium).

Two decades later, in April 1930, “Keeping an Aeroplane of One’s Own” appeared in Britain’s Woman’s Magazine. Later that year, Englishwoman Amy Johnson soloed from Britain to Australia, more than 11,000 miles, in her Gipsy Moth nicknamed Jason. Schoolgirl magazines responded by making Amy a heroine of high order.


School Days called itself “The Chummy Paper for Schoolgirls.”

Beryl Markham was a British-born Kenyan aviatrix, one of the original bush pilots. Her memoir West with the Night (1942) chronicles her flying as part of growing up in Kenya. Markham’s exploits and those of other aviatrices in aviation’s Golden Age gave rise to a genre of young woman’s adventure.


Illustration from “The flying Schoolgirls,” Schoolgirls, 1933.

During World War II, the woman’s role in aviation broadened to include ferrying military aircraft and even combat duty. Cadogan devotes a chapter to “Iron Crosses and Russian Roses.”


Lieutenant Lily Litvak, the White Rose of Stalingrad, World War II fighter pilot.

Lieutenant Lily Litvak, the pride of her regiment, marked her Yak fighter with a rose for every enemy kill. Cadogan says she “struck terror into the Luftwaffe—‘Achtung! Litvak!’ ” The lieutenant perished in combat after twelve months, and Cadogan cites a WWII song with the reprise, “You will surely bloom again, my lovely Russian Rose.”

In charting women’s progress in aviation, Cadogan observes that female flyers in comic strips, magazines and books “achieved success more easily than their real-life counterparts.” For example, post-WWII acceptance of women as commercial pilots came only slowly.

Cadogan’s last chapter, Per Ardua ad Aequalitatem (A Steep Slope to Equality) reviews a century of occasionally fitful progress in real life as well as flying fiction. Like the rest of this fine book, its perspective is practical, philosophical and, two decades later, still a valid one. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014

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