Published May 15, 2007
Ruth Bancroft Law
Ruth Law, who received her pilot's license in 1912, was an accomplished flyer who had set the American nonstop cross-country record for men and women and the world nonstop cross-country for women in November 1916 while flying from Chicago to New York. She landed at Hornell, New York, where a young Lieutenant Henry H. "Hap" Arnold changed her airplane's spark plugs.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Ruth Law volunteered to fly for the Army but was turned down. Even though their offers were dismissed by the Secretary of War with the statement "We don't want women in the Army," many women aviators wanted to contribute to the war effort.
Law and other female American pilots were only allowed to fly in bond drives and recruiting tours, while women in various other countries flew in military roles. (For example, Princess Eugenie Mikhailovna Shakhovskaya of Russia and Helene Dutrieu of France were both reconnaissance pilots during the war.)
Law refused to accept the U.S. War Department's rejection, eventually earning the right to wear the uniform of a noncommissioned Army officer while flying on recruiting tours for the military. While in the Philippines in 1919, Law became the first woman to carry the airmail. For her many aviation achievements she received the Glenn H. Curtiss Medal and the Aero Club of America Medal.