Born this day in 1901: Ruth Nichols (1901–1960), the fastest woman in the world
Ruth Nichols received her pilot’s license in 1924, after graduating from Wellesley College, becoming the second woman in the country to receive a U.S. pilot’s license. That same year she became the first woman in the U.S. to receive a license to pilot a seaplane, as well. She eventually flew every type of aircraft available, from dirigibles to supersonic jets.
Nichols was an aviator pioneer who set numerous records in women’s aviation. In 1928 she and her flight instructor became the first to fly non-stop from New York to Miami. The following year she became the first woman to land a plane in all of the lower 48 states. In 1930 she set transcontinental speed records, and in 1931 held international records for altitutde, speed, and distance.
After sustaining severe injuries in a series of crashes in 1931 and 1932 Nichols turned her attention to relief work. In 1940 she established the Relief Wings, an air ambulance service for disaster relief. When the U.S. entered World War II, the Relief Wings served as part of the Civil Air Patrol. Nicholas became a lieutenant colonel in the CAP and served as both flight instructor and nurse. After the war she did work for UNICEF and continued to break records. In 1958 she broke the women’s speed record, flying over 1,000 mph.
Nichols was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1992.
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