An excerpt from the Wings of Legacy newsletter. Read the full Spring 2009 issue here.
By 1928, a growing number of women wanted to learn to fly. Many were trained at the Embry-Riddle Flying School in Cincinnati, Ohio, then in its third year of operation. John Paul Riddle believed that women made better pilots than men. In the book, The Sky is Home, Riddle said, “Women have more nerve than men when it comes to flying ... maybe it’s because women are (more) naturally nearer to angels than men.” With more women entering aviation, one question often asked of Embry-Riddle during its Saturday night “aviation chats” on a local radio station was, “What place is there for women in aviation?” Women were expected to hold jobs in aviation, but mostly occupations that were “outside the actual operations and maintenance departments.” Nevertheless, one member of the Embry-Riddle Flying School praised women for their business acumen and believed that a woman in aviation would be “a more valuable and more efficient employee if she knew how to fly.”
Women in Embry-Riddle's History
President Isabel McKay
In 1939, attorney and aviator John McKay partnered with John Paul Riddle to create a seaplane base in Miami, Fla., called the Embry-Riddle School of Aviation. Operations expanded into several satellite training facilities for military pilots and mechanics during WWII. McKay became president and owner of Embry-Riddle in 1944.
After his death in 1951, McKay’s wife Isabel took over as the first and only female president and general manager. She served on the board from 1945 until her death in 1972. In 1959, she established the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Institute as a non-profit Florida corporation. Students on the Daytona Beach campus voted to name a dormitory “McKay Hall” in Isabel’s honor.
Susan H. Embry became the first female vice president of the Embry-Riddle Company in the late 1920s when she purchased one of its Waco No. 9 biplanes. She was the mother of the Embry-Riddle Company’s co-founder, T. Higbee Embry. Susan flew as a passenger with John Paul Riddle in the 1926 Ford Air Tour. She was the only woman on the tour. Riddle came in fifth place flying one of the company’s Waco No. 9 biplanes and won $1,350.
Miami’s Technical School
Women played a key role in the Technical School and Carlstrom Field’s Overhaul Division. They received training in the use of precision instruments and in the
fundamentals of engine operation. John Paul Riddle hired 300 women to refurbish aircraft wings in Miami. From April 1942 to February 1943, the women overhauled,
recovered, and refinished over 200 aircraft, and recovered and repaired hundreds of wings, ailerons, stabilizers, elevators, and rudders.
Miami Seaplane Base
The original Embry-Riddle Company merged with the Aviation Corporation (AVCO) in 1929 and was later absorbed by American Airways in 1931. John Paul Riddle eventually relocated to South Florida and reestablished the Embry-Riddle Company as a seaplane base in Miami in October 1939. It was run almost entirely by women, also known as the “barnacle pilots.” In 1942–43, Ruth Norton served as general manager and flight instructor, along with two other female instructors,
Marion Bertram and Pat Grant (one of the first female flight instructors in the country). The chief of the ground school was Pauline Powell. Cay Sillcocks, featured in the photo, was the office manager and registrar of the Miami Seaplane Base.
Union City, Tenn.
At the Embry-Riddle Field in Union City, Tenn. in 1942, six women were
employed as dispatchers.
Pictured at right: Women being given their daily
duties at Embry-Riddle Field in Union City.
By 1943, women played a greater role in keeping Embry-Riddle in operation during WWII when fewer men were available on the home front. They performed duties such as chief dispatcher, radio, Link and drafting instructors, librarian, mimeographer, and postmistress.
Above, female personnel are pictured in front of the administration building at Carlstrom Field in Arcadia, Fla. From left to right: Jackie Livingston, Roberta Dudley, Loretta Weaver, Lydia Sammon, Wilda Smithson, Lorean Bond, Betty Vickers, Margaret Kent, Maude Dykes, Kay Bramlitt, Norma Tucker, and Edna Poston.
São Paulo, Brazil
In 1943, Embry-Riddle established the first aviation school in São Paulo, Brazil, the Escola Técnica de Aviação. Parachute rigging courses were taught by female instructors. On the far left in this photo is Ann Thilmony, who originally worked for Embry-Riddle at Chanute Air Field in Rahtoul, Ill., during WWII teaching parachute rigging. She accepted an offer from Embry-Riddle to relocate to the new school in Brazil to teach parachute rigging and English.