Exactly 93 years ago today, on November 2, 1929, the International Organization of Women Pilots, also known as The 99s, was formed near Valley Stream, New York. The idea to create an organization for women pilots first surfaced in Cleveland, Ohio, in August 1929 following a Women’s Air Derby.
The female pilots taking part in the event all agreed that there was a need for an organization to support current and burgeoning women pilots. Invitations to the November meeting were sent to all 117 licensed female pilots. Despite the invitation, only 26 women pilots showed up for the first meeting in New York.
The name represented the number of charter members
At the suggestion of Amelia Earhart, the organization’s name was derived from the number of chartered members, which so happened to be ninety-nine. The goal of the ninety nines was to provide an international network for female pilots that offered mentoring and flight scholarships to aspiring female pilots. Charter members of the Ninety Nines included the following notable female aviators:
- Amelia Earhart
- Mary C. Alexander
- Ruth Elder
- Viola Gentry
- Fay Gillis
- Mary Goodrich
- Florence Klingensmith
- Opal Kunz
- Ila Loetscher
- Ruth Rowland Nichols
- Phoebe Omlie
- Thea Rasche
- Marjorie Stinson
- Louise Thaden
- Mary Webb Nicholson
- Helen Cox Bikle
- Nellie Zabel Willhite
One of the charter members whose name is not featured above, Margaret Thomas “Tommy” Warren, believed that she was the youngest member, aged just seventeen when she joined. Despite being unable to attend the first meeting, Warren went to the second and was later appointed as the State of Texas representative.
The Nintey-Nines becomes international
Over the years, the Ninety-Nines grew to become an international organization with members in 30 countries. As of 2022, the Ninety-Nines has 153 chapters and 27 regional sections across the globe, including a virtual branch for those too busy to attend events.
Amelia Earhart was elected as the Ninety-Nines first president in 1931, and her memory is still a massive part of the organization following her disappearance in July 1937. The Ninety-Nines are the owner custodians of the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in Atchison, Kansas. A house of national importance that has been returned to how it would have looked during Earhart’s childhood. Today the house features many of Earhart’s personal and family memorabilia.
The Nintey-Nines museum is in Oklahoma City
The Ninety-Nines are also the custodians of the Museum of Women Pilots at Will Rogers World Airport (OKC) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. While the museum does not have any aircraft, it has various exhibits that look at the lives of prominent women pilots and their achievements.
If you wish to see Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 5, B Vega, you must go to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. What the Oklahoma museum does have, though, are many historical papers, photos, and other memorabilia relating to famous woman pilots.
The Museum of Women Pilots at Will Rodgers Airport. Photo: MYP
Today members of the Ninety-Nines support the goals of the organization by being active in numerous aviation activities that include:
- Aviation education seminars
- Air races such as the Powder Puff Derby and the Palms to Pines
- Providing judges for the National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA)