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She dreamed of being an opera star. She did perform in a Gershwin musical with Fred Astaire, and she did become the star of a 1930s radio serial. But after Frannie married a wealthy textile manufacturer and became the mother of seven children on his Pennsylvania estate, she looked to the sky.
Frances Dean Wilcox Nolde became a pioneer pilot and a World War II commander of the Reading Courier Station in the Pennsylvania Wing of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). After the war, she was winner of an early transcontinental all-women's air race, and eventually became a full colonel in the CAP in charge of the Women's program. After moving to Washington, she became responsible for planning how America's civilian airplanes would defend the country should the Cold War become hot.
A glamorous, ambitious proponent of women aviators, Frannie challenged male dominance at a time when home, career, motherhood and personal success created both joy and trials in her life and the lives of those she loved. Her public life demonstrated her capabilities while her personal life revealed her flaws.
In She Looked to the Sky, her youngest child, Frances Dean Nolde, tells her mother's story -- and her own.
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This is one of those books that left me wondering: HOW DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS WOMAN? Frannie Nolde was a full Colonel in the Civil Air Patrol and was the first national director of the CAP’s women’s program. She won the 1948 Powder Puff Derby. She was vice president of the National Aeronautic Association. She was vice president and treasurer of the Aero Club of Washington, D.C. That’s just the tip of a very interesting iceberg. Her life is extraordinary, and her daughter does a beautiful job of chronicling the highs and lows of having a powerful woman as a mother. The information in the book fills in a blank in history about a powerful woman who paved the way for all of us following in her tracks in the sky.
JACQUELINE BOYD, PhD Chair, Amelia Earhart Memorial Scholarship Fund
With great emotional equanimity and a generous spirit, this book pays tribute to a mother with honest humility. Frannie embodied the stereotypical mother image, the exotic beautiful seductress, and a courageously driven explorer who captured the imagination of a nation. One is left wondering about the cost and promise of her choice-making as she breaks and plays the female stereotypes of her day to achieve a remarkable place in the history of women’s place in the skies. I commend this compelling work filled with beautiful photographs in a beautiful design.
REV. DR. DIRKJE LEGERSTEE
In this excellent, frank biography, Nolde gives a nuanced picture of her mother. A glamorous woman, living a life of fairy-tale privilege in Pennsylvania, bound by the strict conventions of her time, yet stubbornly following her great passion—flying. In World War II, by now a well-known pilot, she joined the Civil Air Patrol. After her marriage ended, her capacity as a pilot led the way to work. Certainly, enough story in itself. Yet the author (who at the age of six was sent to boarding school) wants to understand the effect her mother had on her own life. In subtle ways, Nolde reveals how she came to value goals so different: a focus on nurturing the spirit, on the care and healing of others.
BIO-Frances Dean Nolde
I never learned to fly, but the influence of my mother finally pushed me to share my memories and the stories of my mother’s life, with the hope they will motivate other women to fly, literally and figuratively.
I spent my life as a teacher, proponent of coeducation, businesswoman, licensed marriage and family therapist, bereavement counsellor, and end-of-life doula. I earned an MA in English at Middlebury and an MBA at UNH. As I wrote this book, I also chaired my town’s sustainability committee as an activist combatting global warming. I continue my studies of Tibetan Buddhist teachings: Om Mani Peme Hum: May my body, speech, and mind become a benefit for myself and others.
I spend as much time as I can keeping ties to my two daughters, five grandchildren, stepchildren, and step-grandchildren. I live with my husband and editor of this book, Hugh Fortmiller, in our 1760 home west of Boston.
Best Selling Adult Book in 2022
After being published for only a few months in 2022, She Looked to the Sky jumped to the top of the charts at the Silver Unicorn Bookstore. It reached number 5, above Michelle Obama's new book.
Find out why so many people are enjoying reading about the life of Frances Dean Wilcox Nolde, a pioneer aviator and mother of seven. The sky was never the limit.