Violet Thurn Cowden was born in South Dakota to a farming family. She graduated from high school in 1934 and enrolled at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota. She graduated in 1936 and worked as a teacher in town. While there, she took flying lessons and earned her private pilot’s license.
When war was declared, Cowden enlisted in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy). Before her basic training, she was contacted by the WASP and accepted into class 44-W-4. She began training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, in March of 1943. She graduated in August 1943 and was sent to Love Field in Dallas, Texas, where she ferried planes. She also completed pursuit school in Brownsville, Texas.
When the WASP was disbanded in December of 1944, Cowden spent a year in New York City where she worked for an airport in a non-flight position. She later moved to California and started a ceramics business with a fellow WASP and a high school classmate. Cowden remained active in WASP alumnae affairs, having served as the president of the regional and national organizations.