9th December 2006
Book Review #2: Amelia Earhart’s Daughters
Society in the early part of the twentieth century did not believe women were capable of much else besides caring for husbands and children, let alone fly an aeroplane. And in Amelia Earhart’s Daughters: the Wild and Glorious Story of American Women Aviators from World War II to the Dawn of the Space Age by Leslie Haynsworth and David Toomey, society’s oppressive control over women was slowly thwarted by female pilots with tremendous courage. While Amelia Earhart is the most famous female aviator, there were many before and especially after her that contributed enormously to the role of females in aviation that many of us take for granted today, and yet are largely forgotten. Amelia Earhart’s Daughters is an interesting, informative and inspirational read not only for its female reading audience, but for its male audience as well.
At a comfortable 306 pages, this is an interesting book that can easily be read in one or two sittings, especially for aviation enthusiasts. Though Amelia Earhart is the dominant figure of the title, she is written about less than her contemporaries and those that followed her. The book begins with Jackie Cochran’s humble beginnings in Florida and later in New York City; an important bit of background information for a person who was indeed a great hero not only for women pilots but all pilots. Amelia Earhart’s Daughters weaves through her struggles and others, including the media’s use of pilot Nancy Love as a sort of pin-up girl of aviation. This image created of the “glamour girls” of flight lessened (in some of their eyes) their value as dedicated and serious pilots. The book even details the suspenseful circumstances involving Ah Ying Lee, a Chinese-American pilot with the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots or WASP, who was mistaken for a Japanese pilot when she crash landed in Texas in 1942. And also Jerrie Cobb’s experiences undergoing and passing the extensive physical Mercury astronaut examinations in which she hoped to become the first American woman in space.
Although there were some slight historical inaccuracies (the beginning weaves a tale of Jackie Cochran’s youth as an orphan in a shantytown, even though this was a story Cochran made up later and was not the truth of her youth), the book commendably integrated the various true stories of many a heroic aviatrix and made it both interesting and informative. While the work is historical, it possesses some elements consistent with fiction novels. Haynsworth and Toomey have gone through a prodigious amount of research – over 70 books, articles and files have been compiled to make Amelia Earhart’s Daughters, all of which have contributed to making this book as informative as it is.
Haynsworth and her co-writer Toomey bring back the early male-dominated world of aviation through to a fresh perspective. The book examines two periods involving women and aviation. The first is the use of women pilots in World War II, and the second the space age. In the former, female pilots were not very welcome by society in general, accepted only momentarily due to the need for pilots. In the latter, women had gained acceptance into aviation with airplane piloting, but were not yet believed to be reliable astronauts. Each time society thought women were not able to achieve something; they did achieve it, and with flying colours. Recognition of a female’s ability to adequately perform the duties of astronaut eluded women for decades until in 1995, Eileen Collins became the first woman to pilot a U.S. spacecraft.
Amelia Earhart’s Daughters is not only an interesting and informative but it is also very inspirational. It gives readers the hope that their innermost dreams are possible through sheer determination and a good strong work ethic. Today, women are in major positions of power not only in the field of aviation, but also in politics, sport, arts and more. The rights women possess in this country is due to the strength of women who broke through societal constraints and pushed themselves forward, into bigger and better things.
In conclusion, even with all of the determination and hard work of women such as Jackie Cochran, Nancy Love, Eileen Collins and Amelia Earhart; the fight for women’s equality to men has not yet ended. Although many have faded from the public’s memory, these ladies overcame gender barriers and carved new roads for future female scientists and aviators. Women have only recently been able to fight side-by-side with their male colleagues on the battlefield, and yet women are still not paid as much for the same job as men are. Women in many respects are still ostracized to a certain degree if they veer from the stereotypical role of a woman- that being wife and mother. The women of aviation history are inspiring not only because of the struggles they went through, but because of the passion each had for flight. And, as Haynsworth and Toomey say, “For these women, the sky was not the limit. For these women there was no limit.” And we must strive to remember them for that and for their contributions to the science of aviation.
1. Haynsworth, Leslie and David Toomey. Amelia Earhart’s Daughters: The Wild and Glorious Story of American Women Aviators from World War II to the Dawn of the Space Age. (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1998).
 Haynsworth, Leslie and David Toomey. Amelia Earhart’s Daughters. (New York City: William Morrow and Company, Inc. 1998), 39.
 Haynsworth, Leslie and David Toomey. Amelia Earhart’s Daughters, 89-90.
 Haynsworth, Leslie and David Toomey. Amelia Earhart’s Daughters, 200.
 Haynswroth, Leslie and David Toomey. Amelia Earhart’s Daughters, xi, xii.
 Haynsworth, Leslie and David Toomey. Amelia Earhart’s Daughters. xiv.