Cornelia Fort

Cornelia Fort, second from left, poses with several of her fellow female aviators less than two weeks before her death (Nashville Public Library photo)


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.