Nancy Harkness-Love was born February 14, 1914 in Houghton, Michigan. Her father was a popular physician and was able to send Nancy to various prestigious schools on the East Coast and overseas. At age 13, she spent a year studying in Europe, and witnessed Charles Lindbergh’s famous landing in Paris in 1927. Three years later, she attended a barnstorming show in in Houghton, where she purchased a plane ride. Afterwards, she knew she wanted to fly. Her parents eventually agreed, and she earned her pilot’s license later that year at age 16.
Nancy was known for having an eye for business. While attending Vassar she often rented a plane and charged students for rides. This business sense would help her later when family financial troubles forced her to drop out of college in 1934 and begin working for Inter-City Air Service, a Boston company that specialized in charter service, flight instruction, and selling aircraft. She married the owner of the company, Robert Love, and helped him run the business.
Her experience led to her approaching the Army Air Corps in 1940 with a plan for using women pilots to ferry aircraft from factories to air bases. The offer was initially refused but the entry of the U.S. into the war led her to form the WAFS (Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron). This group would later merge with Jacqueline Cocharan’s Women’s Flying Training Detachment to form the WASP (Women’s Army Service Pilots), a paramilitary organization of elite pilots.
Her contribution to the war effort and to the advancement of women’s rights in the military cannot be overstated. Despite being objectified in the press for her beauty, Nancy was a courageous and skilled pilot able to use her business prowess to organize the first military organization of women pilots at a time when the U.S. public was skeptical and the U.S. Military was outright hostile to the idea. After the war she sought to obtain veteran status for her pilots, but she fell to cancer in 1976, one year before Congress voted in their favor.
This biography can also be found in the Winter 2017 GGRWHC Newsletter.