HISTORY OF THE NINETY-NINES
At the dawn of the Golden Age of Aviation, it was unheard of that women pilots compete with men pilots. A breakthrough came in 1929 with the first National Women’s Air Derby. A publicity project of the National Exchange Club, the race was patterned after the men’s transcontinental air races. Twenty women entered the Santa Monica, CA, to Cleveland, OH, “Powder Puff Derby,” including Amelia Earhart and Pancho Barnes.
After the race, a small group of racers met to discuss forming an organization for women pilots. All 117 licensed women pilots in the United States were contacted, and on November 2, 1929, 26 of them met at Curtiss Airport, Long Island, NY. They quickly decided the purpose of the club, “good fellowship, jobs and a central office and files on women in aviation,” and its eligibility requirements, “open to any woman with a pilot’s license.” Selecting a name was a different matter. Noisy Birdwomen and The Climbing Vines, someone suggested that the name reflect the number of charter members. That number turned out to be 99! It wasn’t until 1931 that Amelia Earhart became the first elected President.