March 9 - Today's post is provided by Tami Lewis BrownANY PARTICULAR CLAIM TO BEING A FEMINIST
First I was amazed by the use of the term “feminist” in 1930.Writers are word people and words count, particularly when read in their historic context. And even more particularly when a word – Feminist- remains politically charged to this day, eighty years after the article was published. Were there “feminists” in 1930?
Clearly there were feminists in 1930 and long before. Although women had fought for the right to vote in our country since the 1700’s, suffrage hadn’t been granted in the United States until 1920, a mere ten years before this article was published. Elinor Smith was already nine years old, starting flying lessons, when her mother and grandmother voted for the first time.
No particular claim to being a feminist? What did a girl have to say or do to qualify?
In late summer 1928 a cocky failed barnstormer insulted Elinor, first contending she and all other females should stay out of the sky, then betting she couldn’t fly under one of the East River bridges. Real betting. Pools were set up at Roosevelt Field, with cold hard cash at stake. Would that freckle-faced girl make it under all four landmark New York bridges or would she die trying?
Elinor Smith’s accomplishments- flying highest, flying longest, hosting her own radio show, first pilot to fly a multiple parachute jump, and first woman to refuel a plane mid-air may not bear the gravity of Emmeline Pankhurst’s achievements winning women the vote. An airplane flight is not the same as a hunger strike. But Elinor Smith was a feminist, and an important one. She dreamed of what she could become and she didn’t let anyone else limit or define her. She succeeded in “a man’s world,” making a good living as a professional pilot but she was also a wife and eventually mother of four children. Her actions speak louder than any words declaring herself a “feminist” ever could.
I don’t know about the feminists of 1930, but Elinor Smith is one feminist I claim, both for what she did in her time and the legacy she passed on to women and girls of today.
Tami Lewis Brown is the author of SOAR, ELINOR! and the forthcoming THE MAP OF ME, both published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Visit her Facebook page, Author Tami Lewis Brown, for activities, profiles, and contests celebrating women’s history through the entire month of March.