Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Winnie Beasley



Honored August, 1986

Winnie Beasley

The history of aviation is full of glamorous women. In the early decades there were Amelia Earhart, Beryl Markham, Winnie Beasley.

From the time Winabelle Rawson Pierce experienced her first airplane ride at age eleven, she wanted to become a pilot. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, and raised in Boston, she received her education at Bryn Mawr and Wellesley. Following college graduation, she attended Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School, but she held on to the dream she'd had since she was a girl.

Winnie enrolled in Lincoln Aviation Flying School in Nebraska, then went back home to live so she could save the money she needed to earn her pilot's license. Eventually, she went to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where she received her private license. Then, with a $1,000 loan she bought a ten-year-old monocoup she called "Nellie." After receiving her commercial license and instructor's rating, she took off for Texas to seek her fortune as a flying instructor.

Stopping for a refueling in Blackwell, Oklahoma, Winnie was immediately hired as a flight instructor. Following a stormy period there, she moved to New York City to work for an airplane manufacturer. Not surprisingly, she convinced her boss to let her pick up and deliver airplanes from a factory in Orlando, Florida.

Then, in 1940, along with all licensed women commercial pilots, Winnie received a letter from Jacqueline Cochran asking her to join the Royal Air Force. Winnie answered the call. In Montreal, she passed the RAF test and she shipped out on a coal freighter for England. During the twenty-eight days aboard the ship, she learned to play poker, becoming expert enough to beat the captain.

Once overseas, she joined the Women's Air Transport Auxiliary and ferried planes from the United States to Scotland and fighter and bomber bases in England. She also flew British-built planes from factories to bases around the nation, including B-25 bombers. During the war, she met and fell in love with Colonel Peter Beasley. They married. She was twenty-eight; he was fifty-six.


Please see Volume 1 for complete text.
Photo ©1997 by Joanne Rijmes