Image of Marvel Crosson in plane, c. 1920-1929
University of Alaska Fairbanks Collection, Crosson Family Papers, UAF-2006-0103-00560
In 1748, French daredevil Élisabeth Thible became the first recorded woman to fly in an untethered hot air balloon. In 1910, seven years after the Wright Brothers’ famous first flight, French aviator Raymonde de Laroche became the world’s first female licensed pilot. Despite proven abilities, women generally were restricted to support roles in general aviation until the 1970s. Today, women make up only 8 percent of certified pilots.
Alaska has no shortage of female aviators. Marvel Crosson was the first woman to earn a pilot’s license in the Territory of Alaska. In 1932, Irene Irvine Ryan became the first woman in Alaska to fly solo. Ruth Jefford was the first woman to fly a commercial air taxi and to serve as a licensed flight instructor at Merrill Field in the 1940s. Ellen Paneok was the first Alaska Native woman to earn a pilot’s license in 1979. Captain Tara Wright and First Officer Mallory Cave became, together, the first Black women to pilot an Alaska Airlines flight in 2018.