They thrilled crowds of people all across the world with courageous acrobatics and death defying stunts. Looping, wing walking, parachuting, spiraling the barnstorming era of the 1920’s at last afforded women flyers an opportunity for a career in aviation.
The work was difficult and far less glamorous than it appeared. Many of the performers lived near poverty level, managing only to cover the costs of fuel and aircraft maintenance. But it was a chance to indulge in a passion that consumed the very souls of the women who joined the circuit. It was a chance to fly.There were many stars that dazzled the decade. Ruth Law climbed out of her cockpit, inched toward the center of the bi-plane and endured the pilot making 3 loops while she stood on the wing. Laura Bromwell set a worlds record when she flew 199 consecutive loops before a crowd of 10,000. Nelle Zabel Willhite learned to fly and specialized in flour bombing and balloon racing after a childhood bout of measles had left her completely deaf.
While many women contributed to the excitement and folklore of the barnstorming era, it was Gladys Roy who perfected a stunt that captured the spirit and untamed passion of these daring aviatrixes. With a receiver strapped to the aircraft, she threw up her arms with joyful abandon and danced the Charleston on the wing of her plane as it raced through the clouds.
Perhaps Margery Brown, a barnstormer and eloquent spokeswoman, said it best: “Women are seeking freedom. Freedom in the skies”.