Katharine Stinson was a teenager in 1932, a young woman with dreams of flying airplanes. She was working at the Raleigh airport when she got to meet her idol, Amelia Earhart, who was flying through the area for a promotional tour.
“I told Miss Earhart I wanted to be a pilot, but she said just being a pilot wouldn’t be enough to make a living,” Stinson said in a 1998 NC State magazine article. “She said I should study aeronautical engineering.”
Stinson heeded her hero’s advice and came to NC State as a junior to study engineering. She was, in fact, the first woman to graduate from the university’s engineering program, in 1941.
Stinson went on in 1942 to become the first female engineer hired by the Civil Aeronautics Administration, today known as the Federal Aviation Administration. But over the years, different dates have been listed as her hiring date. University records indicate that Stinson was hired by the CAA on this day in 1942. (See Editor’s Note below)
Regardless of her exact hiring date, Stinson saw her work at the CAA as a way to fulfill her dream. “I never thought about the fact that I was the only woman, because I never saw any women,” she told NC State magazine in 1998. “That may sound funny, but I just wanted to be a good engineer.”
Stinson worked for the agency for more than three decades before retiring in 1973. She died in 2001.
Editor’s Note: Historical State, an online archive maintained by NCSU Libraries, cites today’s date in 1942 as the day Stinson was hired by the Civil Aeronautics Administration. Multiple sources suggest she was hired on an unspecified date in 1941. A clipping from the Feb. 1, 1942, issue of The News & Observer, though, has a photograph of Stinson seated in her office at the CAA building in Washington, D.C., indicating she had started work at the CAA before this day in 1942.