For Women’s History Month we are remembering a woman who only lived in Fairview briefly, in a cottage by the lake off Melhorn Rd.  She moved there to be close to her passion, hers and that of her husband.

Her name was Elizabeth Ann Eberhart.  She was a native of Kansas and graduated from Kansas State University then came to work on the Erie Times. In fact, she was the first person (male or female) with a college degree working on any newspaper in Erie.  She met and married a very popular German immigrant, barber Edward Fusseder, in 1927.   Ed wrote occasional articles for the Erie Dispatch and soon Elizabeth was writing for them too, under the pen name of Barbara Hawley.  Her column, “The Nutshell,” had a large following. (Ed and Elizabeth Ann – Barbara Hawley – are shown above.)

The times were pretty adventurous. Popular just then was flight.  When Neil McCray opened his airport off Route 20 in 1928 just west of Fairview Borough, Ed became an early student. Elsewhere a male reporter for the Erie Times began taking lessons at the Griswold Field off north Asbury Road.  He was writing progress reports about learning to fly, which were quite popular. The Dispatch needed to provide  competition. Barbara Hawley.

Why Barbara Hawley?  First of all, she was a woman.  How many women pilots were there? Secondly, she was a tiny woman.  How many tiny women would want to or try to fly? Thirdly, her husband had already introduced her to the crew at the Fairview airport. 

Barbara had to be convinced.  It took awhile but finally she agreed to take the first step, that of taking a physical and enrolling in the book instruction portion. The Dispatch covered every step she took in their headlines: “Barbara Hawley, Girl Reporter to take Flight Instruction.”  The paper became more and more intimate in their headlines and she was soon identified as “Babs,” as she took each next step.

But as time passed she still wasn’t convinced this was for her so Neil gave her a ride in his Waco he called “Miss Erie.”  Oh, that ride!  He zoomed and turned, sped up, dove deeply, rode upside down, chased a train and more.  Barbara loved it.  She wrote, “It is an exceedingly personal thing, flying.  Just you and all the outdoors right there together.”  She added that it was “great fun.  You would exchange your next morsel for a chance to go up again.”

However, each lesson where she handled the controls was fearful.  She was still reluctant.  More than that, she was scared. She had reason to be.  She was not quite five feet tall and needed a booster pillow in the cockpit.  Her feet did not touch the floorboards.  Could she really conquer this?  Many readers wanted to know.

Her Nutshell column was turning into one about the airfield: who was flying in, who was flying out, who was taking instruction, buying planes, etc.  Her readership was growing. Somehow she was being compared to all those Hollywood movies about “madcap” heroines.  What would she do next?  

Barbara was slow to move to each next step.  Meanwhile, the Griswold Field announced it was chosen as the official airport for Erie.  Then Fred Downing and his son opened a field along 8th street they called the Lincoln Beachey Field, named for a famed stunt pilot.

Neil McCray enjoyed competitions and between the three airports there was quite a bit. In early June 1929 Neil planned his first event, a dedication and celebration of the airport’s first anniversary.  Competitions were varied, from bombing a site (with flour), and spot landings to races.  In all 21 planes took part as did Girard’s American Legion Post #494, who served as hosts.

The Griswold Field closed at the end of the summer and another site, now the Millcreek Mall location, opened. It was called the City of Erie Port.

While her husband and the other reporter were excelling in flight Barbara was still reticent.  But about the time of the first competition she explained why she wanted to fly.  “Because I want to get a license,” she wrote.  “Who wants to hear the grandchildren say some day, ‘When did you get your license, gramma?’ and have to tell them that all I had was an auto license, then hear them snort.” (As stated in the book Cloud Busters, “Flying, after all, was the sport, the adventure, the fad of the day.”)

Ed Fusseder earned his private license in October 1929 and Barbara, discouraged, put her flight sessions on hold for the winter months.  The Stock Market Crash that fall at first had little effect on the activities at the airport.  She picked up her lessons again the following spring and then after a solo flight wrote, “I had flown; I had not been afraid, and I was back!  There is nothing to fear when flying.”  In fact, Barbara went on earn her license that August.  She was the first woman in Northwestern Pennsylvania to hold a pilot’s license.  The next summer she began performing stunts such as loops and spins at the friendly competitions held at each of the three airfields. In November 1932 Amelia Earhart came to speak about flying and Barbara was one of the now five female pilots escorting her to the Academy High School for her presentation. 

Still stunting, Barbara set a new record of 23 consecutives loops and shouted with glee about it all the way down.   Gradually, now, activity at the airports waned.  Fuel was expensive and hard to get, times were turning bad. When World War II began she resigned from the newspaper and used her writing experience to aid the Red Cross. She also served the Community Chest as Publicity Director.  After the war she settled down to domestic life in a cottage near the lake in Harborcreek and though she had written from time to time about her future grandchildren, she and Ed never had children.  She died in 1966, age about 63. 

Today Barbara is regarded as a heroine, overcoming great fear and leading the way into a new horizon for women.

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