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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project


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Ruth Mary Petry (1916-2004) of Ithaca, New York, served in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) from 1943 to 1944.


The Ruth Mary Petry Papers contain information about Petry's experience as a member of the WASP during World War Two and her postwar involvement in the Order of Fifinella, the official WASP organization. The collection spans from 1940 to 1991, and most of the materials are from 1944 and focus specifically on World War Two WASP activities. Document formats in this collection include: personal letters from 1943 to 1949, certificates and official papers from 1940 to 1945, newsletters, newspapers from the 1940's, photographs, WASP rosters, manuals, and artifacts. The collection also includes the transcript of a 1989 oral history interview conducted by Texas Woman's University

Petry's letters discuss the daily duties and life of a WASP. Frequently she describes, in detail, training exercises, weather, planes, ferrying orders and cross country flights, life in the bunk, uniforms, flight classes, and cockpit procedures. Petry also discusses the deactivation of the WASP, which took place on 20 December 1944 in her personal correspondence with both family and fellow WASP. In a letter received by Petry from a fellow WASP stationed in Sioux Falls, South Dakota the dynamic between WASP and the service men who were stationed on base is described.

Petry remained active in WASP affairs postwar by joining the Order of Fifinella; the other half of the collection focuses on the corporation of the WASP/Order of Fifinella organization, the history of the Order of Fifinella, the campaign for gaining veteran status, and reunion information and WASP updates.

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Ruth Mary Petry was born 20 June 1916 and resided in Ithaca, New York. Petry attended Cornell University from 1933 to 1935. Later, she transferred to Radcliffe University where she graduated in 1938 with a degree in geology. Petry obtained her full pilots license in 1940 and her commercial license in 1945. In the early 1940's Petry was employed by Pan Am teaching instrumental flying.

In 1943, Petry joined the Women Airforce Sservice Pilots and was a graduating member of class 44-W-2. During her time in service, Petry was a ferrying pilot; she was also an early test pilot for the B-24, B-17, P-47, and P-39 planes. She attended training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, and was stationed at Courtland Air Base in Alabama. Petry was discharged from the WASP on 20 December 1944 when the program was disbanded.

Upon her discharge, Petry was employed as an aerial photographer pilot with Air Views Inc. She also worked with Crash Injury Research at Cornell Medical College for the Department of the Navy. She was an analyst for John Hopkins from 1952 to 1954, and did military research for Cape Institute of Technology. In 1957 Petry relocated to Phoenix, Arizona, where she worked for Safety Engineering and Research: Flight Safety Foundation.

Petry was a founding member of the 99's, an international organization of women pilots. She was also very active in the Order of Fifinella, the official WASP organization. Petry served as leader of the Arizona chapter during the campaign for veteran status and other WASP corporate affairs. In addition to piloting, Ruth Petry was also involved in soaring; in 1950 she won the Dallas, Texas American Women's Soaring Championship and was also a member of Arizona Soaring. Ruth Petry passed away on 17 September 2004.