Review: Fly Girls

Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History by Keith O’Brien

Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.  Hardcover, 352 pages.Cover: Fly Girls

In the vein of Hidden Figures, The Girls of Atomic City, and Code Girls, Fly Girls is a tale that highlights the contribution of women to science and their forgotten role in history.  In this story, the female aviators in the intra-war era are detailed via the records they set and broke and the air races in which they participated.  Unlike the men who completed the same feats, in the 1920s and 1930s, the women were often ridiculed instead of feted. This is often what lead to the women flying subpar machines, often due to a lack of adequate funding, and lack of sponsorship.  It also led to accidents involving female pilots being used in the media in an attempt to ground them when the same accident involving men were not well advertised.

Though the book’s summary claims a focus on five pioneering women, really four of those are prominently featured.  The fifth, Florence Klingensmith, is seen in only one chapter but the ramifications of her actions echo throughout half the book.  One of the aviator’s featured is well-known–Amelia Earhart.  The others had been lost to time but are a major focus in this work.  Included are Ruth Elder actress turn aviatrix; Ruth Nichols, an heiress turned aviatrix; and Louise Thaden, who went from selling coal to airplanes and then to flying airplanes.  Thaden and Nichols, not Earhart are the two prominent stars of the book. That said, the two women are different as Nichols actions tended to theatrics while Thaden kep to her motto of speed with safety.  Who of these women will break records and win the big races, including races against the men?

As a whole, the presented research shows the struggles women faced in the 1920s and 1930s.  The fact all of the women were aviators was just a way to frame that discrimination. This book is as much about women’s rights as it was early aviation.  O’Brien’s research also shows that all the female pilots realized that discrimination as it occurred, but that they were determined to overcome it against all odds.  While some of the pilots fell victim to their passion of flying, others, like Thaden, overcame and would see a society in later years that saw women as equals. O’Brien also did a wonderful job showing all the famous female pilots of the era, as in modern days all but Amelia Earhart seem to be lost to history.  Hopefully, more will now look into others, like Thaden, and realize they were even more pioneering.

This book has been out a few months.  Have you read it yet? If so, what did you think?  If not, do you think you will read it? Also, does anyone have other suggestions for books about women in early aviation?

This review is based on a copy won in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.


5 thoughts on “Review: Fly Girls

  1. Thank you for the recommendation. This is Gordon Sheaffer. I had to restart my history blog with a new URL. Happy blogging!

  2. Pingback: Review: The Women with Silver Wings | Amy's Scrap Bag: A Blog About Libraries, Archives, and History

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