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TN History for Kids

Cornelia Fort

Cornelia Fort, second from left, poses with several of
her fellow female aviators less than two weeks before
her death
PHOTO: Nashville Public Library,
Special Collections Division

Cornelia Fort was a rich girl in Nashville who wanted to be more than a rich girl from Nashville.

In 1940, a year after she graduated from college, she took a joyride and decided she wanted to fly airplanes. She took lessons and became a pilot. 

A year later she was giving a flying lesson in Hawaii when she saw Japanese warplanes heading toward Pearl Harbor. They fired on her, but she survived. The next year she was one of a small group of women chosen to be members of the Women’s Auxiliary Flying Squadron, which took new planes from factories to military bases.

“The women often flew in open cockpits in sub-freezing temperatures without radios or other equipment now taken for granted,” historian Rob Simbeck wrote in a book called Daughter of the Air: The Brief Soaring Life of Cornelia Fort.

Cornelia Fort was killed in a mid-air collision in 1943, becoming the first female pilot in American history to die on active duty.

Cornelia Fort

Cornelia Fort, the first female military pilot to die on active duty, was from Nashville, TN.

You can read more about her story in the THFK's reading booklet The king's letter, the captain's flag and other stories.