It’s March and we’re celebrating Women’s History Month but 2018 is turning out to be the year of the woman.
In January, the Women’s March on Washington liberated thousands of women to move from the sidelines to the front lines. From#MeToo to #Timesup, women are demanding respect and more access to power in the workplace. Brands like Johnnie Walker are introducing women-themed products.
The New York Times announced that it was launching a new feature in its obituary section called Overlooked, and “adding the stories of 15 remarkable women.” Going forward, there will be more diversity in its obituaries.
She Was a Pioneer
One of the 15 women featured in Overlooked is Violet Cowden who was one of an elite corps of women pilots who ferried planes during World War II from factories to airfields where they were urgently needed. I first wrote of her legendary story a couple of years ago.
Violet Cowden died at 94 in 2011 and left a lasting legacy of loyalty and patriotism.
According to her New York Times obituary, Vi and her fellow women pilots flew thousands of vital missions, freeing male pilots for combat missions. Attached to the Army Air Forces, these experienced and patriotic women were known as WASPS (Women Airforce Service Pilots).
It was shocking to learn that “Because they were civil service employees and not military personnel, the WASPs had to pay for their own food, lodging and often capacious attire. There were no flight suits for women then, and Mrs. Cowden, barely more than 5 feet tall, was installed in a men’s Size 44 for the duration.”
Vi worked seven days a week and “flew in all weather, came down on runways without lights, and sometimes took the controls of planes so fresh from the factory that they had never been tested.”
As the war wound down, male pilots began returning to the U.S., and Vi, along with the brave women she served with, were summarily dumped as men took their places.
Although 38 women lost their lives and many more were injured, they were not recognized for their service until many years later when President Carter signed a bill granting the WASPs recognition as veterans which allowed them to received limited benefits.
Finally, in March of 2010, The United States awarded the Congressional Gold Medal – the highest award that a civilian can receive from Congress – to nearly 300 women, including WASPs, all over the age of 86.
Here is Vi at 92 in a documentary, “Wings of Silver: The Vi Cowden Story,” describing her war-time experience. It begins with footage of the stereotypical image of “girls” during that era. Then Vi shows us what women were really capable of.
Women have flown in space shuttles and now sit in the captain’s seat on commercial airline flights. But the statistics for women pilots are still pretty dismal, as only about 6.71%, or 39,187, women are pilots among the total number of 584,362 pilots.
So, women still have a long way to go. But Women’s History Month is an acknowledgement of how much women have contributed to making this planet a better place to live. Onward!