March 11, 2011
“Here is a group of feminine flyers who don’t just fool around with flying,” reported the Los Angeles Times in January 1934. “They hardly ever powder their noses. They don’t even carry mirrors. They’d rather poke their not unhandsome little noses into a balky carburetor than riffle up a pack of bridge cards seven days—and evenings—a week. They deserve everything they get.”
The paper was referring to the Ninety-Nines, a group of female pilots who had organized in November 1929. (The name comes from the number of charter members—it was originally “the 86s,” then “the 97s” and, finally, “the 99s.” Early rejected monikers included “The Climbing Vines,” “Noisy Birdwomen,” “Homing Pigeons,” and “Gadflies.”)
One of their number was Grace Sefton Mayer, the fourth Pennsylvania woman to qualify as an aviator. Not well known today, Mayer was a gifted soprano who was equally comfortable singing folksongs (in eight languages) as well as the classics. She also played the violin in the New York Philharmonic and sang in the New York Opera. Mayer learned to fly in Florida, receiving her pilot’s license on March 3, 1930. While her family doesn’t have any records or photographs to show if Mayer ever participated in any races, they do know that she flew throughout the 1930s, but gave up flying in later life.
On March 21, Bonhams & Butterfields is auctioning off a five-strand coral bead necklace originally owned by Mayer. (The necklace is expected to bring between $4,500 and $6,500.)
The Ninety-Nines are still active; their Web site notes, “Today Ninety-Nines are professional pilots for airlines, industry and government; we are pilots who teach and pilots who fly for pleasure; we are pilots who are technicians and mechanics. But first and foremost, we are women who love to fly!”
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