gillpolack (gillpolack) wrote,

Women's History Month - guest post by Tamara Mazzei

I'm sure Tamara gave me a bio, but I can't find it. This means I get to invent one. Except that Tamara is one of my publishers (the boss at Trivium, in fact) and it might be sensible to show her some respect. She was also the person who had to sort out the typesetting for the footnotes in Illuminations. For this she is due much respect. Much, much respect.

In addition to running a publishing house and being a whiz at typesetting, when Trivium Publishing agreed to sponsor Australia's Women's History Month, a bit over a decade ago, Tamara designed Australia's webpage, she provided the site, she did all the site maintenance and she did all the hard-work stuff that went into providing live chat and discussion rooms for three years. For Australia. For no pay and only very quiet thanks. She hasn't even been to Australia...

And now you know why Tamara is one of my special guests this month. Without her, Australia might not have had a Women's History Month after that first year, when it all got serious and bigtime and I didn't have the tech skills to handle serious and bigtime. Buy her a drink next time you're in Texas: Tamara has earned it.

Louise McPhetridge Thaden
12 November 1905 – 9 November 1979

Now of course you know about Amelia Earhart because you have read articles and books. You have seen movies. And she was tragic! She died! It’s so romantic! But do you know of Louise McPhetridge Thaden? She was just as amazing, but she lived to a ripe old age, so she seems not to have caught so much attention as her friend Amelia. On her page on the National Aviation Hall of Fame web site, Louise is listed as a “Record Setter/Dare Devil.” I have a special fondness for anyone whose official Hall of Fame listing includes the words “Dare Devil” especially when that person not only happens to be from my home state, but also attended the same university I did. Let’s just say I heart Louise.

Louise was born in 1905 in Bentonville, Arkansas. After leaving the University of Arkansas, she took a job as a salesperson at the Travel Air Corporation owned by Walter Beech. She moved to San Francisco for her job, and it was there she learned to fly. She received her pilot’s license in 1927. In 1928, the same year she met and married her husband (Herbert Thaden), she set the women’s world record for altitude: 20,260 feet. In 1929, she set a new woman’s endurance record of 22 hours, 3 minutes and 12 seconds. Her next notable accomplishment that year was to pass her test for a transport license and become the fourth female transport pilot in the US. If that wasn’t enough, she won the Women’s Air Derby flying from Santa Monica, California to Cleveland, Ohio (almost 2,500 miles), making her the first woman to win a national air race. (Before going any further, read this paragraph again. She got her pilot’s license in 1927 and this paragraph only goes through 1929!

In 1930, Louise and another female pilot, Amelia Earhart, were co-founders of the Ninety-Nine Club (The Ninety Nines, Inc.), which was intended to assist the efforts of women in aviation. This organization still exists today, serving as a valuable resource for current female pilots as well as future ones. Over the next few years, Louise set a number of records including those for speed, endurance, and altitude, too many to list here, but the details are available on the many web pages dedicated to her aviation feats. (e.g., The National Aviation Hall of Fame has a good one:

For Louise, the pinnacle of her flying career was her 1936 victory in the Bendix Transcontinental Speed Dash. It was only the second year women were allowed to participate in the race, and she and her co-pilot Blanch Noyes were the first women to win. In addition, they set a new East-to-West speed record, astounding many because they were flying a single engine bi-plane rather than a racing plane or a newer twin engine. Many found their win even more astounding upon learning that their radio failed and they lost contact with the ground shortly after take-off. They made most of the journey using a compass and dead-reckoning for navigation – and yet still they won! Thaden also received the Harmon trophy for being the outstanding woman pilot in 1936.

It seems her victory in the Bendix Dash was finally enough. In 1938 she announced her retirement from racing. “A family is a lot more important than a so-called career. You can have a career but what have you got when you get through?” she told the Oakland Tribune, which noted that Louise had been “flying around the country for years and letting a nurse take care of Billy and Pasty.” (sic) The paper noted that “Miss Earhart won’t like it because Miss Earhart is a decided feminist. When Mrs. Thaden wanted to resign her job with the Bureau of Air Commerce a couple of years ago, Miss Earhart said, ‘You can’t do that. It’s not fair.’ ‘To whom,’ asked Mrs. Thaden. ‘To—to women in general,’ said Miss Earhart. That was just too bad Louise Thaden told herself this morning…”

Louise did retire from competition in 1938 to spend time with her family, particularly her children, who were seven and three years old at the time. It is worth noting, however, that while Louise retired from competition, she did not retire from flying. During WWII, she returned to work in the Civil Air Patrol, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. I admit that I have wondered if the reason for her decision to retire, i.e., her family, and her openly stated views on her career, which were widely disseminated in the media, for her relative obscurity now. Perhaps not, but she was a contemporary of Amelia Earhart, and she set records, won races, and didn’t crash her plane! She was also a modern career woman who dealt with work-life issues as many of us do – a husband, small children, and a demanding job (dangerous too). Shortly after retiring, Louise wrote her memoirs: High, Wide, and Frightened, which gives a detailed accounting of the early days of aviation from a female point of view.

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