Cornelia Clark Fort’s Life
“I am grateful that my one talent, flying, was useful to my country.” – Cornelia Fort
As the first American pilot to encounter the Japanese air fleet during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Cornelia Fort made history for women aviators across the globe.
Cornelia was born into an affluent family in Nashville, Tennessee,and discovered her passion for flying in 1940. After earning her pilot’s license in under a year, she became an instructor, which led her to Hawaii. On December 7, 1941, Fort was on a flight lesson with a student when she avoided a near mid-air collision with a Japanese plane. The bomber was one of those who attacked Pearl Harbor.
Less than a year later, Fort joined what became known as the Women’s Auxiliary Service Pilots (WASP) and was the first female pilot in American history to die on active duty.
We can easily trace Cornelia through Ancestry records from birth, her arrival in Hawaii to death,
Cornelia Fort was commemorated by Cornelia Fort Airpark near her family home in Nashville, Tennessee, until its closure in 2011.
Her Impact on History
“This is not a time when women should be patient. We are in a war and we need to fight it with all our ability and ever weapon possible. WOMEN PILOTS, in this particular case, are a weapon waiting to be used.” – Eleanor Roosevelt, 1942
In the early 1940s, it was extremely rare for women to be pilots, let alone serve in the U.S. military, but upon entering World War II, women began flying
non-combat missions in the military to allow men to serve on the front lines.
This was pivotal in women’s aviation history and Cornelia was among the first of WASP to serve her country.
Author Amy Nathan captured the stories of Cornelia and other female pilots of WWII in her book, Yankee Doodle Gals: Women Pilots of WWII published by National Geographic. You can hear Amy read an account of Cornelia’s December 7th experience here.
These women dedicated their lives to aviation and proudly served their country but were never truly honored for their sacrifices until 2009, when President Obama awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to Women Airforce Service Pilots.
To learn more about other female aviators who served during WWII, you can watch Amy share the fascinating history of women of WASP by tuning in to NonFictionMinute.
You can also learn about researching Ancestry’s WWII record collections here.
Find our other notable women here,