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From Birdwomen to Skygirls

American Girls' Aviation Stories

Fred Erisman

Publication Year: 2009

Close on the heels of the American public’s early enthusiasm over the airplane came aviation stories for the young. From 1910 until the early 1960s they exalted flight and painted the airplane as the most modern and adventuresome of machines. Most of the books were directed at boys; however, a substantial number sought a girls’ audience. Erisman’s account of the several aviation series and other aviation books for girls fills a gap in the history and criticism of American popular culture. It examines the stories of girls who took to the sky, of the sources where authors found their inspiration, and of the evolution of aviation as an enterprise open to all. From the heady days of early aviation through the glory days of commercial air travel, girls’ aviation books trace American women’s participation in the field. They also reflect changes in women’s roles and status in American society as the sex sought greater equality with men. As aviation technology improves, the birdwomen of the pre-World War I era, capable and independent-minded, give way to individualistic 1930s adventurers patterned on Amelia Earhart, Jacqueline Cochran, and other feminine notables of the air. Their stories lead directly into the coming of commercial air travel. Career stories paint the increasingly glamorous world of the 1940s and 1950s airline stewardess, the unspoken assumptions lying behind that profession, and the inexorable effects of technological and economic change. By recovering these largely forgotten books and the social debates surrounding women’s flying, Erisman makes a substantial contribution to aviation history, women’s history, and the study of juvenile literature. This first comprehensive study of a long-overlooked topic recalls aviation experiences long past and poses provocative questions about Americans’ attitude toward women and how those attitudes were conveyed to the young. Close on the heels of the American public’s early enthusiasm over the airplane came aviation stories for the young. From 1910 until the early 1960s they exalted flight and painted the airplane as the most modern and adventuresome of machines. Most of the books were directed at boys; however, a substantial number sought a girls’ audience. Erisman’s account of the several aviation series and other aviation books for girls fills a gap in the history and criticism of American popular culture. It examines the stories of girls who took to the sky, of the sources where authors found their inspiration, and of the evolution of aviation as an enterprise open to all. From the heady days of early aviation through the glory days of commercial air travel, girls’ aviation books trace American women’s participation in the field. They also reflect changes in women’s roles and status in American society as the sex sought greater equality with men. As aviation technology improves, the birdwomen of the pre-World War I era, capable and independent-minded, give way to individualistic 1930s adventurers patterned on Amelia Earhart, Jacqueline Cochran, and other feminine notables of the air. Their stories lead directly into the coming of commercial air travel. Career stories paint the increasingly glamorous world of the 1940s and 1950s airline stewardess, the unspoken assumptions lying behind that profession, and the inexorable effects of technological and economic change. By recovering these largely forgotten books and the social debates surrounding women’s flying, Erisman makes a substantial contribution to aviation history, women’s history, and the study of juvenile literature. This first comprehensive study of a long-overlooked topic recalls aviation experiences long past and poses provocative questions about Americans’ attitude toward women and how those attitudes were conveyed to the young.

Published by: TCU Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Illustrations

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pp. ix-xi

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Preface

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pp. xiii-xix

Legend tells us that the great names of aviation are male. Wilbur and Orville Wright, Glenn Curtiss and Charles A. Lindbergh, Jimmy Doolittle and Roscoe Turner, Chuck Yeager and Neil Armstrong—they make up an unbroken procession of men. Whether pioneering flight, crossing oceans, or achieving new levels of speed, distance, and altitude, men proudly...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xxi-

The idea for this study arose during my 2002-2003 year as Charles A. Lindbergh Chair of Aerospace History at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution. My project at that time was focused on boys’ aviation books, and my discovery of the analogous girls’ stories was eyeopening. The Smithsonian year also provided the greater part of the...

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1. Formula Stories and Young Readers: 1900-1930

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pp. 3-16

Long before television, well before the coming of network radio, even before the widespread presence of motion-picture theaters, there was the formula story. Series book or free-standing volume, readily available and cheaply priced, these accounts provided entertainment, excitement, and information for four generations of American boys and girls. The books, called by...

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2. Birdwomen Take to the Air: 1905-1915

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pp. 17-60

The summer of 1911 found Margaret Burnham and Edith Van Dyne testing the winds of flying fiction for girls. Their pioneering books, The Girl Aviators and the Phantom Airship and The Flying Girl, respectively, both published in September 1911, were partly opportunistic and commercial, partly idealistic and forward-looking. By the time the two put pen to paper, the United States was in a frenzy of aeronautical...

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3. The Earhart Era: 1925-1940

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pp. 61-102

Undeterred by the onset of World War I, boys’ aviation stories absorbed its events and soldiered on throughout the war years and the dozen years following. Young American fliers contested the Germans from 1915 (Horace Porter, “Our Young Aeroplane Scouts,” 1915-1919; twelve titles) through 1932 (Eustace Adams and Thomson Burtis, “Air Combat...

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4. Amelia’s Daughters Face Reality: 1930-1940

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pp. 103-134

The growing public air-mindedness and the appeal of personal aircraft from 1920 onward fueled a dream of the 1930s. This was the dream of an airplane so reliable and so economical that it could be bought and operated as cheaply as an automobile. An air-minded society could ask for no less, and aviation notables encouraged their desire. Both Charles Lindbergh...

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5. The Stewardess Enters the Scene: 1930-1945

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pp. 135-172

When Ruthe S. Wheeler published Jane, Stewardess of the Air Lines in 1934, she had little idea she was creating a genre. Her only concern was to produce a salable career story touched with information, laced with adventure, and interwoven with a hint of romance. She intended to capitalize upon what was then considered as one of the latest, most modern occupations for women, pair it with the rapidly developing world...

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6. World War II, Working Women, and Aviation: 1940-1960

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pp. 173-212

After the United States entered World War II in December 1941, customs, conventions, and attitudes seemed to change for both men and women. Men were needed to man the weapons and fly the aircraft of the modern military; women, the workplace recognized, were needed to fill the home front jobs once held by men. These jobs came in many forms...

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7. Epilogue

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pp. 213-227

By the time Vicki Barr retired her silver wings in 1964, the world was leaving her behind. Complex social changes were taking place, some affecting women and aviation, others women generally. All, however, foreshadowed fundamental changes taking place in the perception and fulfilling of women’s roles in American society. Newly energized female activists raised challenges to the social and domestic assumptions that...

Bibliography

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pp. 229-248

Index

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pp. 249-261


E-ISBN-13: 9780875654805
E-ISBN-10: 0875654800
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875653976
Print-ISBN-10: 0875653979

Page Count: 284
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: 1

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Flight attendants in literature.
  • Sex role -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Women air pilots in literature.
  • Children's literature in series -- History and criticism.
  • Young adult fiction, American -- History and criticism.
  • Aeronautics in literature.
  • Children's stories, American -- History and criticism.
  • American fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Women in aeronautics -- United States -- History.
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