Amelia Earhart designed this practical two-piece flying suit for the Ninety-Nines, an organization of women pilots. Although the group never formally adopted the suit, the interlocking "9s" eventually became their logo.
The Ninety Nines was established shortly after the 1929 Women's National Air Derby when a group of women pilots met to form an organization for social, recruitment, and business purposes. There were ninety-nine charter members, hence the organization's name. Earhart, always a strong supporter of women in aviation, served as the club's first president.
The Ninety-Nines, Inc., now with over 6,000 members, has grown into one of the premier international organizations for licensed women pilots since its inception in 1929. Margorie Brown, Frances Harrell, Neva Paris and Fay Gillis Wells sent out an invitation to the 117 licensed American female pilots in 1929, but only 26 came to the organizational meeting held at Curtiss Field, Valley Stream, Long Island on November 2. Names such as The Climbing Vines, Noisy Birdwomen and Homing Pigeons were suggested for the club, but Amelia Earhart and Jean Davis Hoyt had the idea of naming it after the total number of eventual charter members, 99. Some of these first members include Ruth Nichols, Blanche Noyes, Marjorie Stinson and Louise Thaden. Earhart was elected as the inaugural president of the Ninety-Nines in 1931. Its initial goals were to promote jobs and other opportunities for women in aviation, and this mission continues today. The club became Ninety-Nines, Inc. in 1950.
Air races have been an integral part of the history of the Ninety-Nines. In fact, it was conceived after many of the soon-to-be charter members organized the first transcontinental air race for women, more famously known by its affectionate nickname from Will Rogers as the "Powder Puff Derby." The inaugural race was in August 1929, with twenty entrants flying from Santa Monica, California to Cleveland, Ohio. Pilots in the race included Earhart, Noyes, and Pancho Barnes, with Louise Thaden and Phoebe Omlie taking first place in their respective aircraft divisions. The race informally continued over the next two decades, with the All-Woman Transcontinental Air Race committee established in 1950 to plan and regulate the event. In 1975, the derby was immortalized in American popular culture when Peanuts creator Charles Schulz had two of the comic strip's female characters enter the race flying a Sopwith Camel. (Schulz's wife, Jeanne, flew the race in 1972 and 1973.) AWTAR held its final official race in 1977, and the derby is now known as the Air Race Classic. It remains the only women's air race officially endorsed by the Ninety-Nines.
The symbol of the organization is made of two square cut interlocking nines. A spinnable prop is often at the center of the pin, and a diamond indicates that the woman is a charter member. A gold number 25 hung on a chain is worn by a 25 year member and active pilot. A sapphire is only worn by a woman who has been elected as the International President.
The Ninety-Nines have been involved in virtually area of aviation from its beginnings, flying all types of aircraft, from fixed wing to helicopters, balloons to the Space Shuttle. They have done humanitarian work, helped in war efforts, contributed to the growth of aviation with a focus on education and fellowship, including a scholarship program, and are currently working on an oral history program to document the history of women in aviation. Individual members have been in an array of occupations and have or are civilian, commercial and military pilots, aerobatic flyers, astronauts, airline hostesses, doctors, nurses, writers, corporate executives, and artists. They have won many races and nearly all major aviation trophies, and have also broken numerous speed and distance records. Almost all women of achievement in aviation have been or are currently members of Ninety-Nines, Inc. Some famous members include Jacqueline Cochran, Dr. Sally Kristen Ride, Jerri Cobb, Nancy Harkness Love, Betty Skelton, Jeana Yeager, and Patty Wagstaff. The Ninety-Nines, Inc. established their headquarters in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1956, which also includes a museum.