Aviation Pioneer, Aviatrix. She was one of only a handful of women who took to the skies at the dawn of aviation. A contemporary and friend of Amelia Earhart and Pancho Barnes, she was born in Warsaw, Indiana, moved to San Diego, California with her family when she was a child. San Diego was very active in aviation, especially military aviation. She and her brother Joseph Crosson worked to come up with enough money to buy a wrecked military surplus Curtis N-9, a plane very similar to the Curtis Jenny but with floats. They rebuilt the airplane and taught themselves how to fly. Joe went to Alaska and started a flying service. Crosson later followed her brother, managing and flying for the business. She was the first woman to qualify for and receive a pilot's license in Alaska. She worked as a bush pilot in the Fairbanks area and flew freight service out of Winnipeg for Western Canada Airways. She and her brother did well despite opposition from some Alaskans. In the early days of aviation in Alaska, pilots and their planes were not welcomed by all. Planes could fly passengers and freight far faster than could be done by mushers and their dogsleds. Resentment was high, and some stores had signs saying "No pilots or dogs allowed!" Crosson later returned to the San Diego area where she set a world altitude record of nearly 24,000 feet in a Travel Air J5 on May 28, 1929, a feat for which the national media dubbed her "New Star of the Clouds." Air races became a big event by the late 1920s. In America, the largest was the National Air Races promoted by Cliff Henderson. Women pilots were not permitted to enter the National Air Races, but Henderson did organize and promote the Women's Air Derby, jokingly referred to as the Powder Puff Derby by comedian and aviation enthusiast Will Rogers. Crosson entered the $25,000 race along with Pancho Barnes, Amelia Earhart, Ruth Elder, Phoebe Omlie, Louise Thaden and fifteen other prominent women aviators. Crosson began the race when she took off from Santa Monica, California on August 18, 1929. The next day, Marvel Crosson died in the crash of her Travel Air D-2000 biplane on the Randy McElhaney farm near Wellton, Arizona. Though reports from that day of August 19, 1929 vary considerably as to what happened, it is generally agreed that Crosson ran into trouble with her Travel Air biplane. Crosson managed to jump from her plane, but her parachute failed to open either because she was too low for it to deploy properly or because it was defective. There was the possibility of sabotage. Several race pilots reported intentional damage to their planes. In the 20s, there was a lot of resentment against women who accomplished things outside the home, and the rumors started flying that Crosson's plane had been sabotaged. No proof of any misdeeds was ever found. Years later in a speech given to members of the Experimental Aircraft Association, Crosson's dear friend Pancho Barnes said that the night before her death Crosson had been worried that her plane had been tampered with by someone. There was also the theory that Crosson was the victim of carbon monoxide poisoning, but even that was unlikely since she was flying an open cockpit plane. Her sister air racers were stunned by her death, but decided to continue on with the Women's Air Derby. Louise Thaden won the race when she arrived in Cleveland, Ohio on August 26th to the cheers of nearly 20,000 people. The aviation community did not forget Marvel Crosson. The National Exchange Club which was one of the event sponsors held a memorial service at each of its 800 clubs nationwide. Air race sponsors left a chair vacant in Marvel Crosson's honor at the Women's Air Derby celebration dinner. Crosson and her fiancé Emory Bronte were to be married in Cleveland at the conclusion of the air race. It didn't happen. Crosson had thought about the possibility of dying in a plane crash. In a letter she had earlier written to a parent who had lost her adult children when the plane they were flying crashed, Crosson wrote, ". . . don't worry; every flyer would rather go with her plane instead of a more lingering way. Just think of the thrill of making immediate contact with the spiritual while doing the thing that one loves to do most." Crosson was buried in San Diego. In 2011, Crosson was inducted into the Alaskan Women's Hall of Fame. In a magazine article published the day after her death, Marvel Crosson was quoted as saying, "I have given up my life to prove women are the best pilots in the world."
Bio by: Herb Greene