The Incredible Ruth Law
Image provided courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection, Gift of Waldemar S. Nelson, 2003.0182.377.

Ruth Law was the third American woman to gain a pilot’s license, granted to her in 1912 at the age of 25. She quickly set multiple flying records for distance and speed and worked as an exhibition flyer. 

She was hired by the New Orleans National Farm and Live Stock Show, held Nov. 10-19, 1917, to fly two exhibition flights each day of the Fair. It was on Nov. 17 that she broke her own world record of consecutive loop-de-loops; after soaring to 5000 feet, she performed 17 vertical loops in a row, until she was too close to the ground to fit in another. This record-setting event drew the largest crowd of any day at the fair. 

Besides performing at the Fair, Law took some time to enjoy New Orleans… and break a non-flight record. She was the first woman ever to dine at Maylie’s, a men’s-only restaurant that had been open for 40 years. Wearing a khaki military outfit with her hair tucked under her hat, she had been mistaken for a man and not found out until she was halfway through her meal. She was allowed to finish her meal, and Maylie’s officially opened to women 8 years later, in 1925. 

As the only woman Rotarian in the United States, she was the honored guest at a New Orleans Rotary club fundraiser. B. R. Bertaut, rice importer, donated 100 lbs of rice, and the menu consisted of rice soup, fish and rice, jambalaya, rabbit and rice, rice salad, and rice pudding. She also scattered recruitment flyers for the Elks from her plane, and endorsed The New Orleans Item’s Tobacco Fund, raising money to send American cigarettes to US soldiers fighting in WWI. 

Ruth’s greatest ambition was to join the US military as a commissioned officer and pilot. And although her campaign made it all the way to Congress a month after her New Orleans appearance, it did not pass. Five years later, her husband tired of her having a dangerous job and made the decision that Ruth was to retire from flying, announcing it publicly to the press before telling her.  

Ruth Law with her plane at the Fair Gounds in 1917. Earning up to $1000 per performance, she was one of the best paid women in the country. At the Fair, she showcased her skills by performing thrilling tricks: very low flights around the track, tail dives, dips, spirals, and other stunts.