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Pancho Barnes “Fastest Woman on Earth”

A selection from Sherman Library will inspire this month’s exciting read. In honor of Women’s History Month, we recommend Lauren Kessler’s The Happy Bottom Riding Club: The Life and Times of Pancho Barnes (New York: Random House, 2000).

Florence “Pancho” Barnes (1901-1975) remains one of the greatest 20th century American female characters. She was a California heiress, yet she forged her own path to become one of the first licensed female pilots. She used her aviation talent as a renowned stunt pilot for both silent and sound films. With this success, she formed one of the first unions in Hollywood, The Associated Motion Picture Pilots (AMPP). Not only was she the first female test pilot for the Lockheed Corporation, but she also became the fastest woman on earth when she beat Amelia Earhart’s airspeed record in 1930.

She gained international fame as founder of the Happy Bottom Riding Club located at what is now Edwards Air Force Base in California. The Happy Bottom Riding Club was both an airport, club, and dude ranch that included horse stables, a rodeo stadium, a dance hall, a swimming pool, a hotel, along with a bar and restaurant. At the height of its success there were over 9,000 club members worldwide. The Happy Bottom Riding Club bar and restaurant became extremely popular with heads of state, actors, writers, artists and high ranking military officials. “Pancho Barnes was a force of nature, a woman who lived a big, messy, colorful, unconventional life” (Kessler).

Lauren Kessler’s The Happy Bottom Riding Club is an informative biography that portrays a woman who did not play by women’s roles and called herself “the greatest conversation piece that ever existed.”

Sherman Library has displayed a small collection of biographies about exceptional women for Women’s History Month. Come visit Sherman Library to learn about Pancho Barnes and other women who shaped our regional history.