Lauretta Schimmoler was an aviation pioneer. Born on September 17, 1900 in Fort Jennings, Ohio, Lauretta was different from most ‘pioneers.’ She did not grow up with airplanes nor did she even have anything to do with them until years after college. With that said, her impact on aviation helped save countless lives.
After graduating with honors at Columbus’ Bliss Business College, Lauretta went straight into the workplace. She found a job as Crawford County’s court stenographer assistant. Law almost drew Lauretta in but she decided against pursuing a career in it. She took a rather unusual turn professionally. Bacyrus Hatchery needed a secretary. Lauretta decided to apply. Not only did she get the job but decided she wanted to run her own business – a poultry business to be exact.
So, by now you are probably wondering how a women who graduated from college, worked for a county court and owned a poultry business became a pioneer in aviation.
In 1919, Dayton was holding an altitude test flight. Lauretta went to watch and it changed her life. She was fascinated with the idea of flying. Ten years later, on August 10, 1929, she received her student pilot’s license and enrolled in flight school in Sycamore, Ohio. The owner of the flight school hired her as his advertising manager. Lauretta convinced him to move his airport from Sycamore to the bigger city of Bucyrus. He agreed with her and, within months, it was moved. Because of this, Lauretta became the first woman to establish and manage an airport.
A little over a year after she received her student pilot’s license, Lauretta earned her pilot’s license. She was only one of a few women to have it – both in Ohio and around the country. Due to her work with the Bucyrus airport, Lauretta was recognized and inducted into the Ninety-Nines, the international organization of licensed women pilots, in 1932. Some of the other women in the Ninety-Nines included Amelia Earhart, Jackie Cochran and Opal Kunz. Lauretta was very active in the organization being the first North Central Governor, second secretary and treasurer of the Ninety-Nines. (Zim’s Note: The Ninety-Nines is still an organization and has over 5,000 members from 30 countries.)
As if all of that was not notable enough, Lauretta turned her attention to the idea of using airplanes as ambulances. She understood the importance of having not only air ambulances – but to have deployable nursing units to care for the wounded when ground transportation was too difficult. This would be revolutionary on the battlefield during a time of war as well as in peacetime when patients needed to be transported a distance.
In order to achieve her goal, Lauretta wanted to learn more about flying. She moved to California and worked with the U.S. Air Mail, Lockheed Aircraft and the U.S. Weather Bureau. Through these jobs, she received a better grasp on the way airplanes were being utilized.
In 1933, she formed the Emergency Flight Corps. Three years and 78 nurses later, it developed into the Aerial Nurses Corps of America. The government initially resisted the idea of air ambulance, finding the whole idea of air evacuation tedious and unreliable. Lauretta spent almost 15 years creating the paramilitary nursing organization and trying to validate its existence to the government and military. She was asked in a 1938 article about the importance of air ambulances and evacuation units as well as women role’s in these organizations. “There are so few places in aviation open to women that I have seized on this one,” she asserted. “Aerial ambulances soon will be common in the United States, I believe. Already, in California, my staff is called on for one to a half dozen trips a week to speed ailing persons to distant cities for medical and surgical treatments.”
As war approached, Lauretta tried to convince the Red Cross of the need for registered nurses serving in air ambulances or on air transportation – basically the whole idea of her Aerial Nurses Corps. In 1940, they rejected her idea. Initially, the U.S. Army thought little of Lauretta’s idea. World War II changed everything for the military. The Army Air Surgeon General started to see the importance of evacuation units comprised of registered nurses. On November 30, 1942, the U.S. Army asked female nurses to apply to volunteer in air evacuation units through the Army Nurse Corps.
In 1942, Hollywood also took interest in Lauretta and the idea of air evacuation nurses. The motion picture, Parachute Nurse, was created. The film focuses on American nurses who enlisted in the Aerial Nurses Corps. It follows the nurses from training to being dropped by parachute to help aid wounded soldiers. Lauretta was the technical adviser and appeared in the pivotal role as Capt. Jane Morgan, the commander of the Parachute Corps.
Additionally, during the war, Lauretta served in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) where she served as a dispatcher at Travis Air Force Base. After the war, in 1946, she commanded an American Legion post – the first woman to do so.
While her Aerial Nurses Corps only lasted 15 years, its role in the early history of air ambulances and evacuation units in the United States is imperative. It became the model for the United States Air Force Flight Nurses Corps (still in existence). In 1966, the United States Air Force formally recognized Lauretta as a pioneer in aviation and medical air evacuation. They awarded her the gold wings of the flight nurse. Lauretta passed away on January 21, 1981 at the age of 80.
“Flying Nurse,” The Telegraph, February 12, 1938.
Jacqueline Jones Poyster, Profiles of Ohio Women, 1803-2003, Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2003.
Marian Schiefer Vance, Images of America: Bucyrus (OH), South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2006.