Nancy Batson Crews: Alabama's First Lady of Flight

By Meyer, Alan D. | The Journal of Southern History, May 2011 | Go to article overview

Nancy Batson Crews: Alabama's First Lady of Flight


Meyer, Alan D., The Journal of Southern History


Nancy Batson Crews: Alabama's First Lady of Flight. By Sarah Byrn Rickman. (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, c. 2009. Pp. [xx], 207. Paper, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-8173-5553-1.)

Raised in a prosperous Birmingham, Alabama, household during the Great Depression, Nancy Batson Crews (1920-2001) claimed that she "majored in Southern belle" at the University of Alabama (p. 17). But, as Sarah Byrn Rickman's highly readable biography reveals, Crews was anything but a typical southern belle. She was one of a handful of women to earn her wings through the federal government's mostly male Civilian Pilot Training Program. During World War II, she flew for the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), ferrying high-performance military aircraft from factories to air bases around the country. After the war she married and settled down as "a typical 1950s stay-at-home mom" (p. 84). The "flying bug" bit again in the 1960s (p. 83). After earning her Certified Flight Instructor rating and working as an instructor, Crews, with her husband's encouragement, bought an airplane and started her own business towing gliders. Later, she dabbled in politics and became a successful real estate developer. In the 1970s Crews helped push through federal legislation that granted long-overdue military veteran status to the women who had served with the WAFS and WASP.

Rickman draws on a wide variety of documents and secondary sources, but her best material comes from the many interviews she conducted with family, friends, and fliers who knew Crews. The author also developed a close personal friendship with her subject that, over time, yielded intimate insights into the personality of the charismatic yet intensely private Crews. The resulting book is far richer as a result, but the manner in which Rickman handles this relationship has a downside for readers. …

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