Donated Book – Now available at Samuels Public Library

Front Royal Women's Resource Center and Royal Oak Bookshop co-sponsor donations to Samuels Public Library that are by or about women. Nan Hathaway, Book Donation Sponsor & Coordinator, chooses our books each year. Thank you Nan!

We highlight one of these books every third week each month. Our 2020 Book Reviews and Commentaries are provided by JoEllen McNeal. Thank you JoEllen!

Sky Girls: The true story of the First Women’s Cross-Country Air Race

By Gene Nora Jessen


“I for one, hope for the day when women will know no restrictions because of sex but will be individuals free to live their lives as men are free.  Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.”    - Amerlia Earhart


The year is 1929, and on the eve of America’s Great Depression, twenty gutsy and passionate pilots soared above the glass ceiling in the very first female cross-country air race.  Armed with grit and determination, they crossed thousands of miles in propeller-driven airplanes to defy the naysayers who said it could not – and should not – be done.

For the very first time, the National Exchange Club, a men’s service club, had elected to sponsor an all-women’s air derby from Santa Monica, California, to Cleveland, Ohio, a distance of about twenty-seven hundred miles, as their national publicity project for the year.  The race was patterned after men’s transcontinental air races.  The small group of women licensed to fly airplanes in 1929, received the plan with huge excitement.  It was a momentous occasion – for women and for aeronautics.  Though there would be great glory for the first one to arrive at the finish line, the shortest total elapsed time would win.  At stake was $8,000 in prize monies, plus generous prizes for each leg of the trip.  The twenty women competing certainly wanted the prize money, but they were ecstatic simply to be competing.

This highly entertaining account of the twenty women, most of who are unknown today, is packed with facts and stories about each woman who flew in this historic race.  It covers all the details of the race itself along with fascinating history about the beginnings of aviation and how women were involved with flying from the very beginning.  The first solo female pilot could have been Aida de Acosta, a young Cuban American visiting Paris in 1903.  Intrigued with Brazilian inventor Alberto Santos-Dumont dirigibles, the young girl was soon taking flight instruction.  After three lessons de Acosta flew the dirigible alone for two hours.  That was five months before the Wright brothers’ flight which made de Acosta the first woman of powered flight.

From the indomitable Pancho Barnes to the world-renowned Amelia Earhart, Sky Girls chronicles a defining and previously forgotten moment when some of the first women pilots took their rightful place in the open skies.  For a century on the brink of defining change, they would become symbols of hope, daring, and the unstoppable American spirit.  And for generations to come, their actions would pave the way for others to step into the brave unknown and learn to fly.

The author, Gene Nora Jessen, was introduced to flying as a cadet in the Chicago Civil Air Patrol.  She graduated from and then became a flight instructor at the University of Oklahoma’s flight training program.  Along with twenty-five female pilots, she was invited to participate in an astronaut research program and became part of the Mercury 13 program.  She was later hired by Beech Aircraft Corp to become one of the “Three Musketeers,” flying one of three airplanes in formation for three months across forty-eight states introducing the new Beech aircraft model. Gene Nora Jessen flew a dozen air races through the years and although retired, is still flying.

2020 August Book Commentary