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Women aviators at T.F. Green Airport

Miss Ruth 'Boots' WigginsWomen aviators have been involved at Rhode Island T. F. Green International Airport virtually from the beginning. Miss Ruth “Boots” Wiggins, a senior at the all-women Wellesley College in 1933, learned to fly in the summer of the same year while she worked as an assistant to her father, head of the E.W. Wiggins Airways, Inc. This aviation firm had a branch hangar at the Rhode Island State Airport at Hillsgrove. Ruth’s older sister, Kathleen, was one of the few women who held a pilot’s license at that time. Even while in college, Ruth would travel home most weekends to gain valuable time in the cockpit as well as help her father’s aviation activities.

In 1934, Miss Barbara Southgate, one of the first woman pilots who held a commercial pilot’s license, performed part-time work at the Rhode Island State Airport at Hillsgrove. Like Ruth, she worked for and flew for the E.W. Wiggins Company.

The press was intrigued by the women aviators at Hillsgrove, and newspapers noted when they received pilot licenses in the 1930s. One article profiled six of these pilots (Miss Bertha Rands, Mrs. Robert Read, Mrs. Jesse Fenno, Miss Edna Gardner, Miss Edith Morley), including mentions of Kathleen Wiggins and another student-pilot, Edna Fishman of Wheaton College. These women took to the skies for the love of sport, adventure, due to family influence, or to pursue a possible career in aviation. Some already had careers, including social work and nursing, in addition to families at home. The airfield at Hillsgrove State Airport provided a training ground, licensing facility, and recreational home for these women and others.

In June 1957, woman aviators from four New England states served on a panel discussion titled "Women in Aviation" at the Massachusetts Fifth Aviation Conference, held at Falmouth, Cape Cod. The panelists included Mary Ann Lippitt, who operated out of Rhode Island T. F. Green International Airport with her own Lippitt Aviation Company, founded in 1946, making her one of the first women business owners in Rhode Island. Ms. Lippitt was inducted into the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame in 2013.