Although I hated the expression “tom boy,” that’s what people called me as a kid. I was the only girl on an all boy’s minor league baseball team and possibly the first girl to play in our part of the state. I did a lot of things that only boys did. My sister and I even insisted on being girl alter boys at church until we were told that we couldn’t. “Boys only” never stopped me. This meant that I had to wear “boy’s attire” at certain times. Betty, however, seemed to be on a mission to do the opposite. When she exited her plane she said she liked to have a dress and a pair of high heels waiting. I think it’s very important that no matter what you’re doing you remain a lady.” How ridiculous, I thought. How would men ever take her seriously? But they obviously did…. To a point.

“I tried to drive the blue flame when it went for the world’s record– there was just no way that they were going to let a woman drive that car,” Betty once said. Most of what Betty said about the men she worked with, however, was positive. “After a woman comes along in those years, in the 40s and early 50s… in this particular area, as soon as you proved yourself so to speak… there was just no difference.” I will admit that this frustrated me a great deal at first. An author wants struggle. Conflict. Adversity! I strongly suspect, however, that Betty did experience these things. She was such a part of the “times,” such as wearing high-healed shoes when exiting a plane, that she didn’t much talk about the adversity.

I have a large collection of magazines dating back from the 40s, 50s, and 60s that I use for research. If you flip through the musty magazines you will find many ads luring women to buy vacuum cleaners, dinner sets, refrigerators, and other household items. The ads also guilt women into finding a proper mate. One lotion ad from 1938 asks, “ How do Other Girls Get Married?” It then shows a happy couple saying their “I do’s” and an unhappy bride’s maid darkly shadowed in the background. It then suggests that using the right lotion will help the bride’s maid become a bride. Even more shocking is a 1955 article in Housekeeping Monthly that begins with, “Have dinner ready… This is a way of letting him (the husband) know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs.” Other bullet points included, “Prepare yourself…. Listen to him… and …Remember, he is master of the house… You have no right to question him.” Housekeeping Monthly ended with this sentence,” A good wife always knows her place.”

Despite the overwhelming push towards marriage, Betty didn’t get married until “thirty nine and a half,” as she put it, which was in 1965. “I didn’t date in high school because I was so busy with flying and that was the most important thing to me.” It must have been hard. A Barnard student talked about her memory of a pre-graduation party that took place in the 1960s. “Students who were engaged to be married were handed corsages, while their classmates without engagement rings were presented with lemons.” Betty ignored popular opinion. She did things in her own time. “I learned many years later, on a reunion of our high school class,” Betty considered,” “that most of the guys were a little afraid of me because I started flying solo long before I learned to drive a car and they weren’t even driving cars then.”

What I keep harking back to is Betty’s willingness, publically, to fall so easily into the mold to which was expected of women during that time. I found this news headline from the LA Times dating from 1955: Petite Demon of Speeding Upset by Mere Trifles; Betty Skelton, Who Drives at 144 m.p.h and Flies Upside Down, Frets About Her Nails. It just seems that whatever accomplishments she’d done were washed away by the silliness of “Braking a fingernail or knocking off a hat.” I guess that’s why I’m here to write this book. There was much more to Betty than fingernails and high heeled shoes, whether she would have admitted to it or not! And though nail polish and Barbie dolls are still alive and well, girls can still get some dirt on their faces, can’t they?