Amelia Earhart is a household name when it comes to the pioneers of female aviation.
However, pilots like Phoebe Omlie, Ruth Elder and Louise Thaden — although not as famous — were just as revolutionary.
Along with 16 others in 1929, the four female pilots took part in the first-ever women’s national air derby, racing across the United States in nine days, to prove that women could fly just like men.
The story was so moving, filmmaker Heather Taylor made it the feature of her 2010 documentary “Breaking Through the Clouds: The First Women’s National Air Derby,” which was shown Thursday night at Hagerstown Community College’s Kepler Theater.
“It’s often said that women’s history is written in invisible ink,” said Taylor of Columbia, Md. “And it’s not that women didn’t do anything; they’ve done a lot. We just don’t hear about it. And we need to hear their stories.”
The event was sponsored by HCC’s National Organization for Women Club as a way to recognize national Women’s History Month.
Linda Smith, the faculty adviser for HCC’s NOW Club, said she first saw the 90-minute documentary at the Maryland International Film Festival in October 2011. She immediately found Taylor to ask if she could screen the film at HCC for their event.
“This is the story of 20 women in 1929 who flew in open cockpit airplanes from California to Ohio,” Smith said. “It just amazes me what they did. I didn’t know their story.”
Along their flight from Santa Monica to Cleveland, the women had to endure cultural stereotypes, navigation challenges, threats of sabotage and mechanical difficulties.
The documentary includes actual footage from the time, which is remarkable in its own right, Smith said.
“There were still silent films going on at that point,” she said.
Taylor began researching the story of the derby in 1997. A decade later, she quit her job to focus solely on producing the documentary. She researched, wrote, directed and produced the now award-winning film, which premiered in the summer of 2010.
“The premiere was fabulous,” she said. “I got a standing ovation that lasted several minutes. I always laugh because I was in the back of the theater saying I had prepared for everything to go wrong, but when everything went right, I was frozen. I wasn’t sure what to do.”
Taylor said she hopes the film inspires men and women alike to follow their dreams.
“It’s important to know your history, but also to know that people before you broke barriers to find their passion,” Taylor said. “You can ... break through the clouds in whatever you want to do. It’s about finding your passion. If these women can do it, you can do it, too.”