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Who was the first licensed female pilot in Southeastern North Carolina?

Gail Calloway

Anna F. Pennington in January 2013 holds a 1940 photo of her when she was 17, in front of a J3 Piper Cub. Pennington learned to fly with the J3 Piper Cub and received her pilots license at 18. StarNews photo by Matt Born.

Women in North Carolina got into flying very early on. Anna Feenstra Pennington was the second woman in Southeastern North Carolina, and the third woman for the whole state to get her pilot’s license.

The first woman to get her pilots license in North Carolina was Mary Nicholson, from Greensboro, in 1929. She was an early charter member of the “Ninety Nines,” the first 100 female pilots in the United States. Amelia Earhart named Nicholson the director of the regional chapter. During World War II, Nicholson worked shuttling planes for the Air Auxiliary Service in England. Mary Nicholson was killed in 1943 while on assignment .

The second woman in Southeastern North Carolina and third in the state to get her pilot’s license was Anna Feenstra Pennington. She is an aviation icon. She and her husband Skinny Pennington built up the local airways with Pennington’s Flying Service. After soloing in 1939, she got her license in 1941.

Unfortunately, we were not able to find out was the first woman locally and second statewide to get her pilot’s license. We checked with museums, flight historians, and numerous interviews and files, but we were not able to find a definitive answer. There is speculation that it could have been Clarice Bailey or Mrs. Pennington’s good friend Laverne Reader. All of these women got licenses around the same time in 1941.

If anyone can help with this important piece of local aviation history, let us know in the Comments section below.


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3 Responses to “ Who was the first licensed female pilot in Southeastern North Carolina?”

  1. On March 26, 2016 at 1:10 pm Gary Chapin wrote:

    I was trying to verify a story my mother told me about a lady named Virginia Malcolm from Statesville.

    My mother was in DAR in Statesville from the early 70’s until she died. She knew Ms. Malcolm from DAR, and perhaps bridge clubs. When Ms. Malcolm died, I imagine the early 80’s, my mother went to her estate sale. Ms. Malcolm never married or had children.

    So my mother bought this silver tea service from the estate, and told me she had heard that Ms. Malcolm had been among the first female licensed pilots in NC. So far I can find no mention of this online. My mother went on to say that supposedly Ms Malcolm and Amelia Earhart had been friends. I never really believed this, but it was credible that Ms. Malcolm had been a pilot. Anyway, there were various pieces of silver and a couple of tea services at the estate sale. Someone told my mother that they didn’t know which, but one of the tea services had been a gift from Amelia Earhart. So I enjoy telling my friends that my silver MAY have once belonged to Amelia Earhart!

    I don’t really believe that, but I read that Ms. Earhart knew other female pilots from NC, so the story seems less crazy. Has anyone here ever heard of Virginia Malcolm from Statesville?


  2. On June 30, 2016 at 8:36 pm John Hinnant wrote:

    I have a newspaper clipping from when my aunt received her pilots license at 16 in the 1940s – I tried to email the author, but it bounced back.

  3. On October 13, 2017 at 7:31 am Martha wrote:

    Try researching an Irene Brennan. Possibly.

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