Margaret Thomas "Tommy" Warren and Josephine "Jody" Wood
Josephine ‘Jodie’ Wood. Margaret Thomas and Josephine Wood were both born in March 1912. They were each 17 years old that day in October 1929 and the youngest female pilots to join the newly formed Ninety-Nines.
Rationally, each one of us has known that this day would eventually come. The year that marks our organization’s 75th anniversary also marks the first year we have no living Charter Members. Margaret Thomas ‘Tommy’ Warren and Josephine ‘Jody’ Wood were both born in March 1912. They were each 17 years old that day in October 1929 and the youngest pilots to join the newly formed Ninety-Nines. At 92 years young, on August 22 and September 11, 2004, the two youngest Charter Members of The Ninety-Nines flew to New Horizons and joined their sisters in flight.
MARGARET THOMAS ‘TOMMY’ WARREN
Margaret Thomas was born in Anson, Texas, in March of 1912. Soon after her birth, her parents moved to Glen Rose, Texas, and then, when she was seven, to Fort Worth. It was in Fort Worth that she would learn to fly.
Her biography, Taking Off, begins this way:
"The chalk squeaked on, but there was another sound now, a little like mother’s sewing machine, only louder. I looked out and saw something in the air, something with wings like an enormous dragon-fly. I jumped up and ran out of the schoolhouse and followed the thing flying through the air until it sank from sight toward the earth. Sharp pains stabbed my heart, but I ran on until I found it, sitting in a field. I stopped, out of breath, gasping. It was one of those moments as in an old tale: the magic lantern is rubbed, the right word is spoken, doors open, and secrets are known. I didn't know the object I stared at was an aeroplane, but I did know that, someday, I too would fly through the air.”
And fly she would. She received her Private Pilot license (#6180) in early 1929 in an OX-5 Travelair. She worked for Curtiss-Wright as a demonstration pilot. In early 1930, she joined the Curtiss-Wright Exhibition Company as part of their stunt team.
My "meeting” Tommy Warren grew from a project concerning the American women who flew for the British during WWII. One of the women I was interviewing was Suzanne Humphreys, who mentioned having roomed with Tommy and Nancy Love in New York City. When Susie passed away, I contacted Tommy by telephone to see what she remembered about that time period. She reiterated what she’d written in her book Taking Off and confirmed much of what Susie had told me about the devil-may-care existence they enjoyed. Although she was almost blind at the time and unable to write anything down for me, the taped phone conversations are a vocal witness to a life well lived. She was indeed a marvel.
After an early divorce, she married Bayard Warren, also a pilot, in 1932. Tommy continued to fly until the beginning of World War II but then was unable to pass her physical to renew her license. She and her husband then moved to Texas and eventually to Maine. She had two children, Mary and Michael. She later got the urge to fly again, passed her medical examination, arranged for some instruction and, as she says in her biography, consulted the I Ching, Book of Changes. The coins were tossed, and the message was: "A bird should not try to surpass itself and fly into the sun, It should descend to the earth where its nest is.”
She cancelled her flight instruction and never flew as a pilot again.
After her husband’s death, she moved to West Cork, Ireland, where she lived until her death on August 22. Services of thanksgiving were held in St. Barrahane’s Church, Castletownsend, Ireland. Donations, if desired, may be sent in Aid of the National Council for the Blind of Ireland, Whitworth Road, Crumcondra, Dublin 9, Ireland.
JOSEPHINE ‘JODIE’ WOOD
Josephine Wood, born March 28, 1912, passed away in Vernon, Texas on September 11, 2004. The Ninety-Nines possesses very little information about her. The 1979 History of The Ninety-Nines has this information under a photo of her and her sister with their flight instructor:
"Josephine Wood Wallingford left, (license #9129) and her sister, Frances, both formerly of Vernon, TX, with their instructor, Burdette Fuller, during training at Jim Granger’s operation Clover Field, Santa Monica. One of the early-day sister-flying teams, Ninety-Nines Charter Member Josephine now lives in the Dallas area.”
From the 1996 Ninety-Nines History book comes this information: "Josephine Wallingford Wood, a charter member and a native of Oklahoma, CA flying an OX5 Swallow. In 1931 she received her limited commercial rating.” Neither of these paragraphs tells much about Wood. When she died, her son contacted Headquarters. I was given his phone number and called to see what information I could find to add to this article. That hour spent on the phone was beyond enjoyable, cathartic and served as confirmation of what I believed to be the central common characteristics that define our Charter Members.
Bill gave me insight into a phenomenally good and talented woman who, as he put it, simply got caught in the cracks of the time. She learned to fly in 1929 and stopped flying in the early 1930s due to the monetary constraints produced by the Depression. She never flew again and very rarely discussed her flying, even with her only son. She was married to Fred Wallingford and had her only son in 1937. She and Wallingford divorced, and she didn’t speak of him again. He was killed in the early 1940s in an airplane crash in California.
Bill fondly related a story about what he referred to as her private pilot’s check ride: Her check pilot strapped her into her parachute and sent her off for her solo flight. She taxied out but found that with the parachute she couldn’t reach the rudder pedals, so she took the chute off and continued her flight without it. When she came back in and landed, she took some extra time at the end of the runway to put her chute back on before she met with her instructor. When she taxied back to her instructor he asked why she had taken so long at the end of the runway. Her reply was that she was "just overcome with the moment.” He simply looked at her and said that must just happen with women.
The Depression made times tough for single women, particularly for divorced women. Josephine, or Jodie, as she was called, made a simple but difficult decision. She stopped flying and went home to take care of her mother and alcoholic sister. Her son said she never complained but did what it was she knew she had to do. Eventually her mother and sister passed away, and by that time she was at a stage in life where she just didn’t feel that flying again was an option. Bill said, "She squared her shoulders and went down the road.” She didn’t torture herself about the decision or her past, and as Bill put it, "Sometimes hard times make a good person.”
Bill will be taking a trip to Ninety-Nines Headquarters in Oklahoma City to visit the Museum of Women Pilots. He believes The Ninety-Nines set the stage that helped give women independence. He sounded wistful as he spoke about the trip. His mother rarely spoke about her flying life, and he knew it would be a bittersweet visit. He was going to visit this place and see his mother as "the pilot that would have been.”