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IWASM's Origins

In the late 1960s, a group of female pilots who belonged to the Ninety-Nines - the world’s first organization of female pilots - realized that the history they had created was in danger of being forgotten. These women, who were among the first to be licensed as pilots, had participated in the high-risk air races of the 1930s, flew with the WASP in World War II, and started the first female-run flight schools in the country, recognized the need to preserve their own stories. To that end, the Ninety-Nines formed a Museum Trust on July 16, 1970 after that year’s Ninety-Nines Convention in New Hampshire.

The Trust’s original intention was to create the Ninety-Nines Museum, which would house the stories of groundbreaking female pilots. Yet as they investigated new possibilities, they came to the decision to go beyond pilots and to instead create a museum for all women in all areas of aviation and space. 

At the same time, the Ninety-Nines planned to build a new headquarters facility for the organization. Discussion centered around whether the museum and headquarters should be combined into one facility, with the Ninety-Nines overseeing museum operations. Ultimately, the group decided to separate the two, with headquarters planned for Oklahoma City, OK and the museum to be built elsewhere.

Dayton, OH, 1973-1986

In 1973, the Museum Trust asked Ninety-Nines chapters across the country to present a proposal for why their city should be the home of the future museum. That year, Doris Scott from Dayton, OH attended her first Ninety-Nines Convention in Milwaukee, WI. Scott believed that Dayton’s place in history as the home of the Wright Brothers, the location of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, and as the “Birthplace of Aviation” made it a perfect choice for the new women’s aviation museum. Museum Trust Chairman Bernice “B” Steadman, the Ninety-Nines, and the City of Dayton agreed, and Dayton was earmarked as the museum’s future home. 

1976 philadelphia convention.jpg
Members of the Museum Committee meet in a hotel room during the
1976 Ninety-Nines Convention in Philadelphia, PA.

The Museum Trust continued to meet regularly over the next three years. And on March 6, 1976, the International Women’s Air & Space Museum was incorporated in the State of Ohio and by August 10, had completed its nonprofit status as a 501(c)3 museum. Doris Scott was elected as the first president of the new Board of Trustees. She quit her job as Corporate Vice President of Scott Equipment Company - which she founded with her husband Roger in 1948 - to focus full-time on the museum. Scott also obtained use of offices at Scott Equipment’s location on Leo Street in Dayton to house the museum’s collection, exhibits, and administrative offices. 

Scott spearheaded the board’s efforts to raise money for a multi-million-dollar museum complex near Dayton International Airport. The proposed design - called the Aero-Astro Cultural Center - included auditoriums, lecture halls, classrooms, two levels of exhibit space, a parking garage, a theater-in-the-round, and a research center. Unfortunately, the national economic recession in the early 1980s brought the Aero-Astro Cultural Center to a grinding halt. By November 1985, Scott stepped back from the board and Connecticut-born pilot Nancy Hopkins Tier - a charter member of the Ninety-Nines - took over the presidency. 

Centerville, OH, 1986-1998

Tier and the museum board shifted focus away from building their own complex and instead sought out an existing building to rent. They found a new home in the Asahel Wright House just outside of Dayton in Centerville, OH. Asahel Wright lived in the home from 1816-1826 and had some notable family members that made the home especially fitting for an aerospace museum - his great-nephews Orville and Wilbur were the first to successfully manage powered flight, and his great-niece Katharine chronicled it all through her letters and record-keeping. 

IWASM's first location in the Asahel Wright Home in Centerville, OH. Circa 1986.

Nancy Tier and Centerville Mayor Shirley Heintz signed the Memorandum of Understanding on February 12, 1986, and a little less than a month later, the museum held its grand opening on March 6. IWASM called Centerville home for more than a decade, hosting educational programming, exhibit tours, and even coordinating with Centerville-Belbrook Times journalist Sarah Byrn Rickman to televise panels and events on local cable channels. Yet by the mid-1990s, IWASM’s collections and audience had outgrown its space. With long-time trustee and northeast Ohioan Connie Luhta taking over the presidency, the museum looked north for a new location.

The IWASM Board during the May 1991 Annual Meeting.

Cleveland, OH, 1998 - today

In May 1998, IWASM signed a lease with the City of Cleveland to become tenants of Burke Lakefront Airport. The airport, which serves as the official reliever airport for Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport, has been home to many tenants over the years, including the Cleveland National Air Show, city employee offices, flight schools, and more. After a year of exhibit design, installation, and behind-the-scenes work, IWASM held its ribbon-cutting weekend from August 27-29, 1999.

Left to right: Burke Lakefront Airport Commissioner Michael Barth,
IWASM Director Joan Hrubec, IWASM President Connie Luhta, Cheryl Ginsberg
(granddaughter of Connie Luhta’s 1966 Powder Puff Derby co-pilot Janet Page)
Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jane Campbell, IWASM Trustee Fay Gillis Wells,
and Cleveland City Councilman Joseph Cimperman cut the ribbon to officially open
the International Women’s Air & Space Museum.