Betsy Ross Air Corps

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The Betsy Ross Air Corps (1929–1933) was a pre–World War II pilot's organization of female pilots. Organized by Opal Kunz and named after Revolutionary war heronie Betsy Ross, the organization had a short lived period of existence during the Great Depression and was never formally recognized by the US military.

The Betsy Ross Air Corps was formed as a semi-military service to support the Army Air Corps and to act in times of emergencies, such as flood, earthquakes, etc. “The Betsy Ross Corps was formed to ferry planes, give flight instruction, compete in benefit air meets to raise funds for charities, and provide first aid. Mrs. Kunz obtained about 100 members and kept the organization going for about four years.” She also indicated she placed as much money as she could spare into the service. “I spent all my resources trying to form Women’s Reserve Corp [sic].” [1]

There appears to be very little original information or other primary sources about this organization, outside some newspaper articles, that was a precursor to many of the women’s flying organizations during World War II. Most of the information found are in the comments of the early members, which often were not recorded for posterity. “…In the spring of 1931, the year before she (Pancho Barnes) ran for L.A. County supervisor, she heard about the Betsy Ross Corps, a national organization of female pilots intended to function as an auxiliary to the Army Air Corps, the precursor to the US Air Force. She joined immediately, donning the uniform of khaki jodhpurs and shirt, and meeting with other local women fliers at March Field. But she was disappointed with the lack of activities…”[2]

"Opal Kunz spent significant effort on the Betsy Ross Corps. She envisioned it, sponsored public relations events in its name, solicited female pilots to join, and served as the first commander of the organization. The New York Sun of January 2, 1931 (“Girl Flyers Ready to Aid Army”) described its formation. It was organized, “solely for national defense, as a strictly patriotic society…. Its peacetime mission is to encourage women to improve their skill and experience, thereby making them safer pilots, and in a short time it is expected that a fine reserve group of young women pilots will be trained and disciplined to serve in national emergencies.” At the first meeting the organization was completed, the constitution adopted and the insignia selected (please click this link to see the insignia, also designed by her husband). The following flyers were present, either in person or by proxy: Gladys O’Donnell, May Haizlip, Marjorie Stinson, Florence Lowe “Pancho” Barnes, Eleanor McRae, Ruth Elder Camp, LaBelle Sweeley, Ruth Bridwell McConnell, Jean LaRene, Jane Dodge, Mary Goodrich, Manila Davis, Margery Doig and E. Ruth Webb." [3]

As a student pilot at Brainard Field, Mary Goodrich Jenson wrote a series of articles for the Hartford Courant on her experiences. The so-called “girl pilot” (she earned her license at the age of 20) continued to write on aviation for the Courant, the first woman to have a bylined column for that newspaper. She was a charter member of Earhart’s Ninety-Nines, Inc., an international organization of women aviators founded in 1929. Jenson piloted her own Fairchild KR-21 biplane around Connecticut, and made history as the first woman to fly solo in Cuba. She was a director of the Betsy Ross Corps, a group of female pilots organized to assist in national defense during emergencies. In 1940 she promoted the Women Flyers of America, a unit of female pilots trained to relieve male pilots for wartime service by ferrying planes from the factories to airfields and transporting supplies. The WFA motto was “Airmindedness – for Sport, Profession and Emergency!”

Hattie Meyers Junkin (1896–1985), was an aviator and observer of a number of historical events in the aviation industry. "…Always interested in aviation, in 1931 she became one of the first women to earn a glider class C license. …Hattie spent much of her life writing, especially about gliding and about the history of the Weaver Aircraft Company. She was also an early member of the Betsy Ross Flying Corps."[4]

There is a recent obituary for a fellow member of the Betsy Ross Flying Corps: "Martha Morehouse (formerly Zettler) of Columbus, Ohio died Friday, October 8, 1999... She was a member of… the Lauderdale Yacht Club, The Betsy Ross Flying Corps, The National Aeronautical Association, Pilots Association, …Captain of the Motor Corps in Tampa… and an ambulance driver during the war."[5]

"Further, Aline was a member of the Betsy Ross Corps (BRC), a women's flying association organized by Opal Kunz. Kunz' husband was a Tiffany vice-president and gem expert, thus the design and execution of the organization's wings, below. Please direct your browser to Opal's page to understand better the mission and dedication of the BRC of which Aline Miller was a part."[6]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ John F. Kennedy Library, Boston, “White House Central Name File, Box 1532, Folder: KUNZ.” Letter from Opal Kunz to President Kennedy, dated April 14, 1961.
  2. ^ Kessler. Happy Bottom Flying Club. Page 100.
  3. ^ Davis-Montham Aviation Field
  4. ^ Hattie Meyers Junkin (1906 - 1982). Papers, National Air and Space Museum Archives, Washington, DC. Series I, Box 3, Folder 11, “Betsy Ross Corp [sic]”
  5. ^ Columbus Dispatch, May 28, 2003.
  6. ^ Davis-Montham Aviation Field Register

Bibliography[edit]

  • “Betsy Ross Corps Adds Members.” New York Herald Tribune. April 16, 1933.
  • “Is there a Women’s Air Reserve?” Evening Star (Washington, DC). June 6, 1933. Describes the Betsy Ross Corps as the Women’s Air Reserve.
  • Johnson, J. C. “Women’s Flying Corps, Named After the Creator of the First United States Flag, Stands Ready to Meet Any Emergency that May Confront the Nation.” Washington Post. June 11, 1933. Review article on the formation and activities of the Betsy Ross Corps.
  • “Women Reserve Pilots to Train: Construction of Eastern Center is Under Way at Orange City, Florida.” Evening Star (Washington, DC). January 19, 1932. A new center of women air reserve pilots to train is announced. Also announced will be the commission of a new anthem for the Betsy Ross Corps to be composed, and a famous artist will ”perpetuate the corps on canvas.”
  • “Girl Flyers Ready to Aid Army: Opal Kunz Heads Betsy Ross Corps, Formed as Military Auxiliary Unit.” New York Sun. January 2, 1931. Opal Kunz was elected “Commander” of the organization.
  • “Women Fliers Military Club Organized by Mrs. Opal Kunz.” Newark Evening News. January 3, 1931.
  • “Mrs. Opal Kunz, Organizer of 99's Club for Women Pilots, was one of the first women to take Instruction at Newark Airport.” Sunday Call (Newark, NJ). April 5, 1931.
  • Altick, Sherman B. “Betsy Ross Air Corps to March: Girl Flyers Will Meet in Washington to Plan Military Auxiliary Work. Sun (New York). April 20, 1931. Describes organization, history, intentions, uniforms and plans of the Betsy Ross Corps, also described as “The Lady Bugs.”
  • “Women’s Air Reserve Will Organize May 9: Heads of Army and Navy Services Will Attend Founding of the Betsy Ross Corps.” New York Times. April 26, 1931.
  • “Mrs. George F. Kunz Christens New Plane.” New York Times. July 12, 1929, page 23:1. She named her airplane the “Betsy Ross,” in honor of the woman who sewed the first American flag. Mrs. Thomas Edison broke a bottle of mineral water over the fuselage, sprinkled some on the propeller and christened the airplane. Moonlight flights over New York City were given to some of the guests.