We Represented All Women

During World War II, WASPs proved that an airplane couldn’t tell the difference between a male and female pilot.

Vi Cowden during her service with the WASPs in the 1940s. (Courtesy Jonna Hoppes)

Jonna Doolittle Hoppes’s new book, Jimmy Doolittle, was a memoir about her grandfather, the famous four-star general. The following profile of Violet “Vi” Cowden of the Women Air Service Pilots (WASP) is reprinted by permission of the publisher.

I am sure God must grin when he watches a hawk fly. On wings spread wide, it soars above the earth with grace and majesty. And with deadly accuracy, it swoops down upon its prey. Perhaps there is no creature so magnificent.

I can’t remember a time that I didn’t envy the hawk, didn’t yearn to soar, and swoop, and climb through the clouds with such pure elation. As I sat on the stoop of our little sod farmhouse in South Dakota, I dreamed of escaping the bonds of earth. I would watch with fascination as my hawk would swoop down, zero in on a little chicken, snatch him up and fly away.

“Oh,” I would say to myself, “if only I could do that!”

So you can imagine my delight when a barnstormer landed his little Cessna on our picnic grounds during my senior year of high school.

Our nation was in the grips of the Great Depression and we had little disposable cash. But my boyfriend paid the five dollars that opened the door to my future. Perhaps there are no words to describe that first flight.

I went on to college. Worked my way through and earned my teaching credential. I taught my first grade in a little school in Akaska, South Dakota. I earned $110 a month. My rent came to $10, so I had enough left over to buy clothes and other luxuries. Within a short time, I decided that my clothing needs were more than satisfied and, if I budgeted wisely, I could afford flying lessons. I put away $10 a month, and in a fairly short time, I earned my private pilot’s license.

The airfield was six miles out of town. I didn’t own a car so I rode my bicycle to the field early in the mornings; just slipped out of bed and started the day.

The children knew.

“You’ve been flying,” they would greet me at the beginning of class.

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