Ninety-Nines

The Ninety-Nines Mission Statement:

The Ninety-Nines® is the International Organization

of Women Pilots that promote the advancement

of aviation through education, scholarships and

mutual support while honoring our unique history

and sharing our passion for flight.

The Ninety-Nines, Inc is the international organization of licensed women pilots.

In 1929, two years after pilot licensing began in the United States, there were 9,098 men licensed to fly and only 117 women. Women who flew were frequently depicted as “girl pilots,” and the newspapers focused on their hair color or how they balanced aviation with housekeeping. Living in a society that constrained women’s social and economic independence, the group formed for women to support each other in the aviation profession jointly.

In 1929, a group of 99 women pilots decided to form an organization for social, recruitment, and business purposes. The idea to form the association came from the strong connection the female pilots had developed in the summer of 1929 during the first National Women’s Air Derby, more popularly known as the Powder Puff Derby – a name made up by humorist Will Rogers and highly criticized by the female pilots. The coined name mainly failed to portray the competition’s seriousness and danger, with one experienced aviatrix even losing her life because of engine troubles and crashing to her death in an Arizona desert. The transcontinental race started in Santa Monica, California. It ended up in Cleveland, Ohio, six days and over 2,700 miles later from its start, with fifteen out of the twenty female air racers crossing the finish line. Even though being such a risky race across the continent, probably even worse was the fact that press coverage and even the regulations tended toward sexism. For instance, the pilots were prohibited from using any aircraft considered too powerful for a woman.

This race ultimately brought the ladies of the air together. At the end of the Women’s Air Derby and the arrival of all the racers to Cleveland, the women felt a connection that required a more official bond. The criteria for eligibility into the organization was essentially any woman with a pilot’s license. In recent years, though, the membership has been open to women with student pilot certificates.

The established purpose of the organization was for the mutual support and advancement of women pilots, helping each other with professional opportunities, and recording their achievements as female pilots, “good fellowship, jobs and a central office and files on women in aviation.” In choosing a name for the organization attendee, Amelia Earhart proposed their name be taken from the sum of the first 99 charter members who attended the meeting and had expressed an interest in forming the organization, which was then formally named “The Ninety-Nines.” Women who joined after this point were not considered founding members. In 1931, Amelia Earhart was elected the Ninety-Nines first president. Through her guidance and support, the organization started to take shape and became established. Nowadays, the Ninety-Nines international organization of licensed women pilots headquartered at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, marks more than 90 years of existence and numbers more than six thousand members from forty-four countries.

Probably the reason why the organization is so important and carries so much value is that it doesn’t seek any conflict with the male pilots. Instead, Ninety-Nines wanted women in aviation to be treated as equals, “rather than spoiled as something rare and very precious.”. Ninety-Nines also to be given identical opportunities to the men who did, as explained by one of the founder members, such “marvelous things in the air … We believe that our girls can and will learn to fly as well as the average man, better than many, but it does not seem likely that we will ever equal the remarkable skill of countless men fliers both in our own country and abroad.” (1929 Letter from Opal Kunz to Cecilia M. Kenny, Buffalo, New York)

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