If ever a woman might be described as a “flapper,” it would be Elizabeth Ann Eberhart.  She was from Kansas, graduated from Kansas State University in journalism and had come to Erie to write for the Erie Times.  She was the first person to work for an Erie newspaper with a degree in journalism.  Not too long after her arrival she switched to the Erie Dispatch and acquired a penname, Barbara Hawley.

On occasion Edward Fuessedor wrote an article for the Dispatch, perhaps voicing his immigrant viewpoint on local and national events. Ed was a popular barber in Erie.  The two met, fell in love and in April 1927 they were married.  Barbara became interested in the things that interested Ed, including flying.

Sports flying was the “cat’s meow” in those days.  And in the late 1920s there was one, then two, then three and finally four airports all located from the Millcreek Mall location west and north to Fairview and near the lake.  The first two fields were the Griswold Field off North Asbury Road and the McCray Field at the western edge of Fairview off Route 20.

Interest in flying was so big in Erie County that Ed Pfister, writing for the Erie Times, was assigned to take flying lessons at the Griswold Field.  It would sell newspapers!  How to counter that?  Hmm.  How about we send Barbara out to take lessons where Ed is flying in Fairview?  She’s five feet tall, maybe weighs 100 pounds, why!  People would rush to buy her account of each lesson! 

But Barbara was not sure that it was for her. In fact, she was pretty sure she didn’t want to take flight instruction at all.  But Neil McCray, a “magnificent pilot” who loved flying aerobatics, gave her a ride that convinced her that she had to do it too.  She said afterwards, “It was great fun… and you would exchange your next morsel for a chance to go up again.” 

Still, she took longer to finish her instruction, longer to solo and longer to earn her license. But though she was unsure of herself she kept at it.  She wrote, “Who wants to hear the grandchildren say some day, ‘When did you get your license, gramma?’ and have to answer them, ‘I just had an automobile license, dearie.’”

So she stayed with it, earned her license and became the first female in Erie County to have a pilot’s license.  She and Ed were the first flying couple in the county.  Barbara began writing a regular column about the local flying scene then Ed Pfister gave way at the Erie Times to Marion Reilly who took her instruction at the Lincoln Beachey field (now the Tom Ridge Field).

Next Neil McCray convinced Barbara that she needed to perform some simple aerobatics, such as loops, challenging height records of individual planes, and more.  Once she started competing she made records too.  Meanwhile, she and Ed bought a lakefront cottage off Melhorn Road in Fairview Township. 

Barbara and Ed became friends with Morrison King, a World War I veteran who had been gassed during the war.  He had recovered, and was now a radio personality in Erie, with morning and afternoon  programs that could be heard in Idaho on a clear day.  One thing led to another and Barbara soon had a radio show too, mostly interviewing pilots and talking about flying.  When Morrie fell ill and died of tuberculosis, she and Ed flew over the Fairview airport where he had taken his flight instruction and dropped his ashes over the field as Morrie had requested.  It was the first aerial military funeral service in Erie County.  (The airport is in the center of the photo on the left.)

When Amelia Earhart came to town in 1932 to talk about the future of flight, Barbara and by now four other female pilots served as Amelia’s escort.  (Years later Fairview’s nationally known artist Vega Ihsen took flight lessons and joined the Ninety-Nines, the national women’s aviation club that Amelia Earhart helped organize and preside over.)

Wanting to meet her in-laws, Barbara traveled alone to Ed’s parents’ home in Bavaria where she also had a chance to observe Adolph Hitler.  “Hitler Forbids Women to Use Nicotine Today,” she wrote in an article she sent back to the Dispatch.

Erie County was a mecca for pilots and planes for about a decade, then during the mid 1930s, the economic situation in the country began to catch up.  The Griswold Field had closed a few years before and in 1939 Neil McCray left Fairview to manage the airport in Jamestown, New York.  A great deal of the aura of sports flying went with him.  Ed and Barbara sold their Fairview home and bought a beachfront property in Harborcreek.  During World War II she wanted to do something that would serve her county in some way and became publicity director for the Community Chest.  She also served as publicity chair for the Red Cross for a year during the war.  After the war she settled down to “domestic life.” 

The male pilots of Erie County formed many pilots’ clubs over those early years.  Two rules always applied: the member must be a pilot; the member must be male.  Barbara’s comment after the last of the clubs was founded: “I don’t believe anyone of the feminine pilots ever was asked whether or not she cared to be affiliated… Probably they like bridge better than poker anyway.”

One thought on “A Female Pilot? Come on!”

  1. So inspiring to read about Barbara and her accomplishments. She and Ed were dedicated to each other, flying and journalism. We are humbled to live in their Harborcreek home near Moorhead Airpark.
    Grateful to Sabina Freeman for preserving the story of journalist and pilot Barbara Hayley, aka Barbara Fusseder, aka Elizabeth Ann Eberhart.

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