Utah WASP and other flying women

Happy Veteran’s Day, and thank you to the brave men and women who have served and sacrificed for our freedom.

And happy book birthday to Utah Women: Pioneer, Poets & Politicians!

To celebrate both, I’m writing today about the female Civil Air Patrol pilots and WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) of World War II.

My grandfather, Frank Brooksby, was a pilot over occupied France during World War II, and his brother Victor was killed in action flying on the Pacific Front of the war. The Brooksby family seems to have been drawn to the sky, and the Brooksby girls were no exception. Family photos like the one below of three of my great aunts during World War II always interested me, and I’ve finally found out a little more about the experiences of the Brooksby girls and other female WWII pilots.

1944 July 2; Edith, Vivien, IsabelleAmerican women didn’t fly in combat in World War II (though the Russian “night witches” did!). Instead, they flew missions stateside, freeing up men to fly overseas. WASP women tested and repaired airplanes and shuttled planes, people, and cargo around the country. Women in the WASP program even flew planes hauling targets so the male pilots could practice shooting live ammo!  Thirty-nine of the slightly over 1,000 WASP volunteers died in service to their country.

The Women Air Service Pilots were not granted status as veterans until 1977 when they petitioned Congress to have their service officially recognized by the history books. Though their recognition came late, they played an important role in proving that women’s minds and bodies could handle the complexities of flying, even during menstruation (yes, that was in serious doubt at the time). Latino, Asian, and Native American women flew with the WASP program, also proving their capabilities, though black women were segregated out of WASP by their race and out of the history-making, all-black Tuskegee Airmen by their gender.

Many other women served with the Civil Air Patrol. Started just before the US entered World War II, the Civil Air Patrol formed to utilize the skills of civilian pilots in protecting the United States. CAP pilots patrolled over land and sea, performed rescue missions, and worked as couriers. It was open to both sexes and all races.

But, I wondered, how did the Brooksby girls from little Fredonia on the Arizona Strip (the patch of Arizona above the Grand Canyon, just south of the Utah border) learn to be pilots? They might have seen the occasional barnstormer or cropduster, but I doubted that planes were common in Fredonia.

Like most female pilots of World War II, I found, they trained at college-based Civil Pilot Training Programs. At least some of the Brooksby women attended Dixie Junior College (now Dixie State University) in St George, Utah (Southern Utah is known as Utah’s Dixie for the early attempts to grow cotton there). There, they took the classes to learn to fly through the Civil Pilot Training Program and then went to the Provo Flying School under the direction of Merrill Christopherson to complete their training. Once they had the necessary solo hours, they worked with the Civil Air Patrol ferrying planes across the country.

After the war, WASP women were dismissed as no longer needed by their country. Commercial airlines would not hire female pilots. Some pilots, like Utah transplant Marjorie Redding Christiansen, became air traffic controllers. Others continued to serve with the Civil Air Patrol or other community organizations. Their service was forgotten by many for a number of decades, but today we can remember their bravery and determination to serve their country.

(Below, the Brooksby pilots, minus Victor Brooksby, who was already MIA in the south Pacific.)

1944 Summer; Vivien, Isabelle, Frank, Edith

Utah Women: Pioneer, Poets & Politicians

I LOVED working on this project – Utah history has so many inspiring stories and amazing women – and I’m excited to have a release date and cover! Utah Women: Pioneers, Poets & Politicians coming November 2019 from The History Press.

Trailblazing in Untamed Territory

Representing lawmakers and lawbreakers, artists and adventurers or scholars and activists, the women of Utah defied stereotypes. At the crossroads of the West, they found new challenges and opportunities to forge their own paths. Emma Dean explored the Rocky Mountains with her famous spouse John Wesley Powell. Martha Hughes Cannon defeated her husband to become the first female state senator. Maud Fitch drove an ambulance under German artillery fire to rescue downed pilots in World War I. Author Emily Brooksby Wheeler celebrates the remarkable Utah women who, whether racing into danger or nurturing those who fell behind, changed their world and ours.


Current Events

I try not to get political here, but I’ve been watching the sexual harrassment in kidlit/Salt Lake FanX fiascos unfold, listening to the various viewpoints expressed, and I need to share my current takeaway.
tl;dr: It’s time for society to really embrace the facts that we are more than our bodies and that our bodies don’t belong to anyone but ourselves. (And if you think your masculinity depends on your access to or power over women, you need to look around at the many good examples of men who are strong without pushing others down.)
A couple of hundred years ago, women in Western society were regarded more or less as the property of the men in their lives, without the rights to own property or businesses on their own, express their voices in politics, or have a say over their own bodies or their own children. But we’ve finally been fixing that over the last century or so, and the process has made men reevaluate their own roles in society. Most, I think, have seen the value in treating women like partners instead of dependants, in allowing women their voices and their autonomy, but a large minority have been socially/culturally trained to think that they’re not men if they don’t have power over the people–and especially the women–around them (and that’s the TOXIC part of toxic masculinity).
Now, are there radical man-haters out there? Unfortunately, yes. Are they the majority? No. I think a lot of women feel the way I do. We appreciate the men in our lives: our fathers, brothers, husbands, friends, co-workers, etc. We appreciate their desire to protect and care for the people they care about. We’re not asking men to go away or to put aside their positive traits and instincts. What we’re asking for is to be listened to and respected as human beings.
Most of this is pretty simple: Learn to see us as more than a set of body parts. Don’t get in our physical space without our permission. Don’t assume we’re stupid or have some evil agenda because we have two x-chromosomes. Don’t act like our bodies or our time belong to you. If we can root out that sense of entitlement, I believe a lot of these issues with school shootings and sexual harrassment and physical violence against women would end, and that men as well as women would be happier.

World War I is getting closer…

Okay, I actually mean the centennial of the U.S. entering World War I. The “Great War” started in August of 1914, but the U.S. entered the war April 6, 1917–99 years ago today.

Like a lot of people, I didn’t know much about World War I except trenches, the Spanish Flu, and Snoopy’s dogfights with the Red Baron. But, fellow author and USU history MA, Jeff Bateman, got me interested in the story of Utah during World War I, and we’ve co-authored a book about it called No Peace with the Dawn, coming out in November of this year in time for Veteran’s Day.

We’ve woven a lot of history into the book (along with adventure and romance), and I’m going to be sharing tidbits here as we count down to the centennial, as well as on a web site dedicated to information about the war (coming soon!). Though the book, and our research, was focused primarily on Utah in World War I, most of the information applies to the U.S. and World War I in general.

For today, I’ll start with this U.S. propaganda poster from the war. Women at this time were still fighting for the vote in most parts of the United States (they already had it in Utah). One of the arguments against letting women vote was that only those who might fight for their country should be allowed a say in how it was governed. Women played a huge part in the war effort at home and on the front (I’ll go into more detail in future posts). The government generally downplayed their role overseas, particularly with the suffrage movement going on, but I guess it couldn’t resist the urge to tie in Joan of Arc, another woman in a man’s world who served (and saved) her country, especially since most U.S. soldiers served on the Western Front in France.