In 2017, writer and anthropologist LLyn De Danaan made a thrilling related discovery at the Historical Society's Research Center. While conducting research for her article about Mary Riddle, the first Native American woman pilot (and from Willapa Bay, WA), De Danaan was carefully paging through a scrapbook that had been donated to the collection. In its pages, discovered a hand-typed letter from the world famous pilot Earhart. You can imagine our excitement over De Danaan's find, a wonderful benefit of her diligence which can now be shared.
The letter was written to Alma Heflin of Spokane, Washington, and dated March 16, 1936. Heflin was also a pilot and had sent a letter to Earhart on March 7. In her return correspondence, Earhart empathized with Heflin, stating "You girls in Seattle are having to battle what women face everywhere -- a condescending attitude on the part of the male, inescapable and suffocating." Earhart goes on to encourage Heflin: "I think women should fly and fly and fly as much as they can afford. Only deeds count ..." She describes the difficulty that women face in regard to lack of means to access flying time and training. She writes about raising money to rent planes and fund advanced courses.
Heflin received her pilot license in 1937 and then went to work for Piper Aviation in Pennsylvania, in sales and was promoted to publicity director. In 1938, she became the first woman to lead the annual light plane cavalcade to Florida, and in 1941 she became the first female test pilot for a commercial aircraft company. During World War II she flew as a bush pilot in Alaska and tested planes for the US Army's noncombat "Grasshopper" Squadron. She later went on to become a teacher and child psychologist.
Heflin cherished her letter from Earhart and it stayed tucked into her scrapbook. Heflin and Earhart's correspondence is a wonderful story of mentorship and personal connection, and offers insight into women breaking into nontraditional fields in the 1930s.
Pictured above, Earhart's letter; and at right, Alma Heflin (in plaid) with an unidentified woman (possibly her mother).