Tag Archives: US History

Fly Girls: The Forgotten Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII by P. O’Connell Pearson

Fly Girls: The Forgotten Women Airforce Service Pilots of WWII by P. O’Connell Pearson is a nonfiction book written for middle school children introducing the lives of various female aviators who made an impact on the world by their contribution to the war effort in World War II. Laying the groundwork, Pearson goes back to the beginning of the unrest in Europe, describing the actions of Hitler and the Axis as well as the relationship between England and its Allies, especially when the Germans invaded Poland and war was pronounced. She then takes us to Pearl Harbor and the start of the United States’ involvement in the war. In between there is a discussion of the rise of aviation with heroes such as Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart creating a public interest in flight.

During the prewar period, the head of the Airforce realized America needed more military planes. The growing number of female pilots, often overlooked because of their gender, wanted to help, but they were referred to opportunities overseas since the US military did not allow female recruits. Those attitudes changed slightly as the need for volunteers increased resulting in the introduction of the WAVES (Women Accepted For Voluntary Emergency Service) and the the WACS (Women’s Army Corps), but it wasn’t until the establishment of the WASP (Women’s Arlington Airforce Service Pilots) that women aviators were allowed to be of use to the Army Airforce.

In the meantime women could play a role as instructors since male pilots were desperately needed in fighter planes. Women were considered too weak to handle the physical challenges of controlling a plane in rough weather and while they might be capable of filling auxiliary roles, they were not allowed to be involved with combat due to their “unstable”, “feminine” characteristics. At least that was the public perception, in spite of the fact that thousands of women were accepted in the Women’s Auxiliary Airforce in England while the Russian Airforce had three all female combat units complete with women manning the bombers.

Still, the war needed pilots, so Nancy Love was asked to form a Squadron and women were finally recruited to fly in noncombat missions for the WAFS (Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron), but they had to stay civilian until Congress approved the measure. Unfortunately, Congress was reluctant to give their approval for what they considered an experimental program. Twenty eight women answered the call with another twenty five women already in the British Corps. Eventually over a thousand of woman were recruited to become pilots for the newly established WASP. The standards for these female recruits, even though they weren’t officially military, was higher than those for the men because they were expected to prove their worth, despite the unequal rate of pay.

The details of the lives of Nancy Love, Betty Giles, Jacqueline Cochran, Cornelia Fort, Betty Huyler Gillies, Barbara Poole, Evelyn Sharpe, Gertrude Meserve, and Marion Florsheim are intermixed with the war effort. These women took on the more tedious and often dangerous tasks such as transporting planes from the factories to the bases, flying planes pulling targets for artillery practice, and testing newly designed aircraft or piloting those which had just been repaired.

Even though there were many qualified African American women ready to serve, since the black and white troops were kept separate during the war, allowing these female pilots into the WASP would have jeopardized the program. (It wasn’t until 1948 that the military was integrated, after the war was over). In spite of this precautionary measure, in 1944 Congress voted to disband the WASP organization even though the women had done a stellar job on some very difficult and dangerous tasks attempting to overcome the prejudice and harassment from service men who felt threatened by their presence. Unfortunately, the propaganda against female aviators was used against them despite the positive reports from their commanding officers. In 1977 their service was finally recognized as active duty by the military and they received the recognition they deserved, but the right to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery was still being contested as recently as 2016.

With the current emphasis on the role of women in American Society it is appropriate that the actions of these courageous women are revealed, especially for our youth. It’s also important that our young women have these role models brought to their attention as well as showing the male population that women are just as capable as men, even in professions considered too “tough” for a female to handle. In 1991 Congress finally authorized women to fly in combat missions with 1998 the year that women fighter pilots actually flew in a combat mission to Iraq in Operation Desert Fox, but it took until 2004 for the first woman in US Airforce history (Col Linda McTague) to command a fighter squadron.

It is evident by the way the story is told that this is a book aimed at children. While it starts out more like a textbook than a nonfiction book, as the narrative progresses it gains our interest reflecting the fact that this is a worthy topic and the author has done extensive research. There are insets giving background information to help with the reader’s understanding, including a comparison of 911 with Pearl Harbor and a description of the Great Depression. Some of the tidbits are quite informative, such as the annotated list of military medals and honors.

Unfortunately, this is an overview and the lives of the majority of women aviators are given only a cursory glance, instead of an in depth biography. An annotated listing of each woman and her accomplishments would have been a welcome addition. However, the book does include an index, notes, and a list of references, so it would definitely be good for basic research, as long as the reader recognizes that Patricia Pearson has placed her own definitive American slant on events, often simplifying complicated scenarios. A plus is the emphasis on the role of women in the twentieth century and their fight to be taken seriously, especially in the field of aviation. It wasn’t until 2015 that women were legally considered on an equal footing with men throughout the military, but the implementation of this ruling is a work in progress.

There were quite a few photographs in Fly Girls, but I felt that since this book was for youth, even more illustrations were necessary. Overall, a good introduction to a topic full of little known facts from this historic time period appropriate for Middle School and High School Libraries, but also relevant for adult readers.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.


News of the World by Paulette Jiles

In my neck of the woods we all know about Mary Jemison from the Letchwood Park area in New York State who was captured and raised by the Seneca Nation in 1755. While I’ve wondered about her experiences, I’ve never dwelled on what it must be like to leave one world and enter another. News of the World by Paulette Jiles explores this very issue as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is given the task of delivering a ten year old girl brought up by the Kiowa to her surviving relatives, an Aunt and Uncle from Castroville, Bexar County outside of San Antonio.

After living four years with a Kiowa family, Cicada, newly dubbed Johanna Leonberger, has no recollection of life with her original parents who were killed by her captors. She wants to go back to the existence she knew and is fearful of this current situation, unsure of exactly what will happen next. The 71 year old Captain is reluctant to take on the arduous 400 mile journey, but has an empathy for the wild child. He attempts to teach her the ways of the “civilized” world, but she consistently breaks the rules, unaware of the taboos of society. Slowly Johanna learns a new way of life as they travel across Texas, and eventually she is able to help out the “Kep-dun” by collecting the ten cent admission to the Captain’s read aloud. His job is to go from town to town, reading bits and pieces of articles from newspapers throughout the world. Avoiding local politics, since the Confederacy lost and this is Texas, he deals with information from far away places such as France or the North Pole, talking about inventions which will change the world, and peaking the ranchers’ interest with information about a huge modernized packing plant in Chicago. In this way the Captain is able to eke out a living in the rough and tumble world of the West in the 1870s. Somehow, in spite of rain and the threat of violence, the two seem to get along, building a grandfather/granddaughter bond. The Captain is leery about what the future holds for his temporary ward, but he does his best to complete their quest.

An interesting tale featuring Texas front and center. Full of details of the landscape and weather encountered in their travels, and the politics and lifestyle faced by the slowly growing citizenship of the newly born state, the author creates a setting reflecting life in the post civil war era. In fact, it seems more emphasis is placed on the land than on the people in the story, although all sorts of characters are met along the way (and some aren’t so nice). Jiles throws in quite a bit of historical information about the issue of land ownership in a section of our country which was once dominated by Spain, as well as some background about the various battles of the era using the Captain’s backstory as a justification for including this into her tale.

As in the book Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, it amazes me that in such a sparely populated state everyone seems to know each other’s business, in spite of the vast span between towns. More than once when “out on the trail” the Captain is recognized by some passersby as “The Man Who Reads the News”, a title which earns him respect (in most cases).

While the relationship between the Captain and Johanna is sweet and the author attempts to create a realistic depiction of the times, I had a few issues with this book. Jiles’lack of quotation marks to indicate when someone was talking left the reader wondering what was spoken aloud and what was simply a thought, especially when comments were made in the midst of a paragraph. I also had some questions involving the conclusion and how our hero was able to justify his actions and avoid entanglements either with the law or with his stellar reputation. However, kudos to Jiles for featuring a hero from the older generation. It’s nice to have an author revere their elders instead of stuffing them into a nursing home sitting and drooling quietly while they await their death. Captain Kidd was able to hold his own quite nicely in spite of a few to-be-expected aches and pains. Three and a half stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

All the President’s Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses – How the White House Grounds Have Grown With America by Marta McDowell

All I can say about All the President’s Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses – How the White House Grounds Have Grown With America by Marta McDowell is “What an amazing book!” – filled with illustrations (maps/plans/designs, drawings, charts, paintings, portraits, photographs, ) and a rambling history of the building of the White House and its gardens with a lot of little tidbits reflecting the life and times of our country.

George Washington, a serious gardener, selected the location of the White House (not far from his home of Mount Vernon). L’Enfant was drafted to design the city, including laying out the White House grounds and although Jefferson fired him the plans were still used. Washington died before the White House was completed and John Adams only lived there a short time. Jefferson was more interested in buildings than gardens, although he was responsible for developing the front and back yards. He chose the Lombardy Poplar to be planted along Pennsylvania Avenue. James Madison used Jeffersons plan to design the gardens, adding trees, ornamental flowers, shrubs, and vines.

The Shakers “invented” the little envelopes which they filled with seeds selling door to door and for commission at various general stores. Their sales even found their way outside the US – The consulate in Naples shared a packet with a visiting President.

It was the gardener and the President’s valet/slave who assisted Dolly Madison in rescuing the portrait of Washington and other valuables which could be grabbed prior to the British burning the White House. The British ate the meal and drank the wine Dolly had prepared for her husband prior to torching her home. The original building took twelve years to complete, but when the original architect, James Hoban, was called back to repair the damage, the rebuild only took 3 years. The garden, destroyed by both fire and construction, also had to be redone .

The first five Presidents were plantation owners with an interest in gardening. Since they were responsible for the expense of providing meals for their guests, the vegetable garden, begun by Madison, became an important part of the grounds. Botany was a gentlemanly pursuit practiced by the various inhabitants of the White House with most of the wives more concerned with the domestic arrangements inside the executive mansion.

The growth of the grounds took many decades and reflected the styles of the time, often influenced by the formats of French and/or English gardens in Europe.

John Ousley, a naturalized citizen from Ireland, was the official gardener for fifty years. Sheep were used for “turf management”.

Numerous Horticultural organizations began specializing in ornamental gardening and the flora of DC was catalogued. In the 1830’s Ousley won prizes for the produce grown in the White House gardens, especially for strawberries.

Trees, both imported and domestic were a part of the schematic.

Andrew Jackson brought magnolias with him to the White House in honor of his wife Rachel who died shortly before he took office.

Andrew Jackson Downing, a renowned American horticulturalist, developed a plan for Washington and the White House grounds. Unfortunately, in 1852, at the age of twenty six, on his way to DC, the steamer he was aboard sank on the Hudson River and he drowned along with the plans. However, his designs for The Mall and Lafayette Park were implemented.

Over the years there were additions which ranged from an orangery to a greenhouse to an ornamental conservatory.

Even during Lincoln’s presidency, the gardens were open to the public. Mary Todd Lincoln began the custom of sending flower bouquets to recipients in lieu of a visit.

Henry Pfister, born in Zurich, became the head gardener in 1877, supervising 5 other gardeners. During his tenure bulbs became popular, but his flower of choice was the amaryllis. Pfister Introduced the horse drawn mowing machine and made sure the boilers for the conservatory were properly stoked.

Rutherford B Hayes and his wife instituted the Easter Egg Roll on the White House Lawn which was set up (as well as cleaned up) by the horticulturalist.

The Washington Monument was dedicated in 1885 by Chester A. Arthur.

When Teddy Roosevelt took office his children, 6 sons and 1 daughter, and their pets took control of the White House and the gardens. He succeeded in getting the White House expanded, but to make ready for the addition (the beginning of what is now known as the West Wing) the conservatory and greenhouses had to be removed (some relocated near the Washington monument). Pfister was not pleased. No longer needed, he was dismissed in 1902.

George H Brown was then hired and he installed a new garden. Colonial gardens were back in style. Food gardening gradually disappeared.

Teddy Roosevelt promoted the McMillan plan bringing in two renowned architects plus Frederick Law Olmsted to redesign the city leading to the development of the National Mall and the Lincoln Memorial.

It was Helen Taft who promoted Eliza Scidmore’s vision of the glory of the Cherry Tree blossoms inspired by her experiences in Tokyo as a youth. They ended up being planted at Potomac Park, enhancing the view from the White House and complementing the Washington Monument. 2000 trees were donated by the mayor of Tokyo but they were infested, but about 6000 healthy trees were later sent, half going to Central Park in NYC and the rest to DC. in 1912.

Helen Wilson hired a woman, Beatrix Jones, to design her White House garden outside the West Wing, much to the chagrin of the Army Corps of Engineers who maintained the grounds. After Helen died, the new First Lady, Edith Wilson, continued on with Beatrix’s plans, though modified, for the East Garden.

During WWI with men off to war, woman began organizing and war gardens, with the Women’s Land Army, became the rage.

The Coolidges had the first National Christmas Tree in 1923.

Frederick Law Olmsted was disappointed in the gardens, feeling they should be a model for garden enthusiasts across the country. In 1935, under the Roosevelt administration, he was brought in to create a Landscape Development Plan.

During WWII the newly named Victory Garden once again became popular, including one at the White House.

Some Presidents, such as Hoover, wanted “the help” to be invisible, but Truman was dismayed that the gardeners were hiding behind the bushes when he passed and insisted they be at ease and continue their duties whether or not he was in the vicinity. During the Truman Administration the White House was renovated/repaired including the addition of a balcony. Between the construction and the lawn being dug up to create a bomb shelter, the lawn and gardens had to be quickly redone (and updated) with resodding and plantings, including a blooming cherry tree.

Eisenhower installed a putting green and it was during his term that helicopters took off and landed on the White House south lawn to the chagrin of the head gardener since it burnt the grass.

Jackie Kennedy, inspired by their trip through Europe, had the gardens redesigned, headed up by her friend Rachel Melon. By this point The National Park Service was entrusted with keeping up the grounds. The White House Rose Garden was included in this endeavor which also needed enough green space to accommodate 1000 guests and a raised platform for presentations such as the introduction of the 7 astronauts of Project Mercury. Due to the assassination of President Kennedy, work on the East Garden stopped, but Lady Bird Johnson insisted it continue as designed and named the results the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden. Lady Bird also started the Capitol Beautification Project. Her contribution to the White House grounds was the addition of the Children’s Garden including a gold fish pond.

Tricia Nixon was married to Edward Cox in the Rose Garden.

Debris from the burning of the White House in 1814 was found when digging a swimming pool for Gerald Ford.

Jimmy Carter had a platform tree house built for his daughter Amy. Caroline Kennedy had a more elaborate structure, but it was a policy to remove children’s play equipment at the end of each president’s term in office

Carter, a farmer, took various cuttings from the White House gardens back home to his farm in Georgia. Labels were added to the commemorative trees during his administration. Ronald Reagan declared the Rose the national floral emblem of the United States.

Barbara Bush left the gardening to the National Park Service staff although a horseshoe pit and a pond stocked with goldfish was added. The squirrels kept eating the fish.

When an elm planted by John Quincy Adams in the 1820’s had to be removed after a second lightning strike in 1991, a new tree was planted using a grafting from the original elm.

Hillary Clinton added sculptures to the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden.

When the street in front of the White House had to be closed for security reasons after 9/11 during the Bush administration, the Pennsylvania Avenue Project was instituted and completed by November 2004. Laura Bush updated the Rose Garden and added some of the original plants as well as the first lady’s favorite, Texas Bluebonnets.

Michelle O’bama added a food garden, adhering to Olmsted’s original plan from 1935 to keep the vista lines across the South Fountain clear. The White House Kitchen Garden used some of the same plants grown by Jefferson at Monticello. Bee hives were added to produce honey.

When President Obama visited the Pope he presented the Pontiff with hybrid seeds from the White House Gardens.

In addition to all these tidbits and more, the author included an annotated list of all the White House gardeners/horticulturaluralists. Most recently Irvin Williams (nicknamed Whitey) served from 1962 to 2008 under 8 Presidents and in 2008 Dale Haney was appointed Superintendent of the Grounds.

Also included is a list of all the Presidential plants (Shrubs, Trees, and Vines) with their common name, botanical name, whether they are indigenous to the lower 48 states, and whether they were on the grounds from inventories in 1809, 1900, and 2008 (a few plants appear on all three lists) with any known cultivators as well as notes of interest. The numerous photographs and other illustrations certainly enhance the entire narrative.

The book concludes with recommended readings, a bibliography of resources and citations, acknowledgements, and a list of Illustration sources and credits.

I was expecting to skim through this book, but was surprised to find the text totally fascinating (as you can see by my selected notes) and read every word. Marta McDowell did an unbelievable amount of research which will appeal to both gardeners and America History buffs. Five stars and a thank you to Timber Press and Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.