"The Women Are Going To Organize… We Don't Know What
For." -- Unknown Newspaper Columnist, November 2, 1929
Eighty years ago, the 99s tell ANN that 26 women pilots met in
a hangar at Curtis Airport in Valley Stream, Long Island, NY, for
the purpose of creating an organization "just for women
Only two months before, at the conclusion of the inaugural
Women's Air Derby in Cleveland, OH, Louise Thaden, winner of the
large engine class; Phoebe Omlie, winner of the small engine class;
Gladys O'Donnel, Amelia Earhart, Blanche Noyes, and Ruth Nichols
met under the spectator bleachers to discuss the race experience.
There was suspicion of sabotage, attempts to shorten the race, and
attempts to cancel the race, all because some felt that women
shouldn't fly or couldn't withstand the rigors of long distance
At the same time, non-pilot New Yorker Clare Studer, who worked
in public relations at Curtiss-Wright, and a few friends including
Neva Paris and Fay Gillis (Wells), also aimed to establish a group
through which women pilots could work to overcome the "oddity"
status they endured in order to achieve a greater level of
respectability and public acceptance. Their objectives include
helping women in "aeronautics research, air racing events, gaining
aerial experience, and any other interest that will benefit the
member and/or aviation."
Despite the competition, and probably because of it and the
camaraderie the racers developed, a call went out to all 117
licensed U.S. women pilots to join this new group.
At that November 2 meeting, one attendee, Viola Gentry, was
recovering from injuries received in an accident during an
endurance record attempt. Fay Gillis arrived late in a greasy
jumpsuit, having just finished working on her airplane. Jessie
Keith-Miller from Australia gave the group its first international
member, in the U. S. as a participant in the Derby.
Most arrived by car or train due to inclement weather. Neva
Paris was selected temporary chairman. Membership eligibility and
the purpose were decided upon: membership would be open to any
woman with a pilot's license, and the purpose was "good fellowship,
jobs, and a central office and files on women in aviation."
Choosing a name proved a little more troublesome. Suggestions
included The Climbing Vines, Noisy Birdwomen (a reference to the
Quiet Birdmen which does not allow women members), Homing Pigeons,
and Gadflies. Amelia Earhart and Jean Hoyt finally proposed the
name be taken from the number of charter members. Once The 86s,
then The 97s, the new organization eventually became The 99s.
Not all was well in the early days. Opal Kuntz became Acting
President until formal elections could be held. But before that
could happen, Election Chairman Neva Paris was killed in a plane
crash. Factions developed and the club operated informally until
Amelia Earhart was elected president in 1931.
Other organizations for women pilots with various purposes have
come and gone, some founded by 99s charter members: The Skylarks,
The Betsy Ross Corps, Women Fliers of America, Women's Air
The 99s has since enjoyed a total membership of over 20,000
women pilots worldwide. With over 165 U. S. and Canadian chapters
and 14 international sections such as Germany, Mexico, Israel, and
Russia, 99s worldwide enjoy a community of friends, role models,
and mentors in the largest and oldest international organization of
True to the founders' desire to help women pilots, The 99s
established a scholarship fund in 1940. Named the Amelia Earhart
Memorial Scholarship as a living memorial to the first president,
the first award was presented to Pat Gladney in 1941. The continued
stewardship by the scholarship trustees and donations from loyal
99s and others has resulted in today's fund growing to over $4
million and awarding more than 500 scholarships to 99s for pilot
certificates, aircraft category and class or type ratings, flight
instructor certificates and ratings, aviation-related college
degrees, and research grants.
As a direct response to the 2001 downturn in airline employment,
Pro99s was developed as an email based forum where women pilots
discuss job opportunities and issues particular to women
The success of Pro99s gave flight to the Professional Pilot
Leadership Initiative, a formal mentoring program that offers
one-on-one mentoring by an experienced woman professional pilot to
help participants develop their pilot career and leadership
Student pilots and members pursuing advanced ratings share
successes and disappointments on the 99s Flight Training Forum.
Flight instructors, designated pilot examiners, and experienced
pilots moderate the forum.