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Phoebe Jane Fairgrave Omlie (Park)

Also Known As: "Omlie"
Birthplace: Des Moines, IA
Death: July 17, 1975 (72)
Indianapolis, IN
Place of Burial: Forest Hill Cemetery Midtown Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee
Immediate Family:

Biological daughter of Elias Asbury "Harry John" Park and Madge Beatrice Fairgrave
Adopted daughter of Andrew E. Fairgrave
Wife of Capt. Vernon Cleophas Omlie

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Phoebe Omlie

Omlie was the first woman to receive an airplane mechanic's license, the first licensed female transport pilot, and the first woman to be appointed to a federal position in the aviation field.

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Omlie set several world records in aviation, including the highest altitude parachute jump by a woman. She was also the first woman to cross the Rocky Mountains in a light aircraft, and was considered by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to be one of "eleven women whose achievements make it safe to say the world is progressing".

Phoebe Jane Fairgrave was born in Des Moines, Iowa on November 21, 1902, and was the only daughter of parents Harry J. Park and Madge Traister Park. After divorcing Harry Park, Madge married Andrew Fairgrave, who adopted her two children, Phoebe and Paul. Phoebe and her brother, Paul, attended Oak Park School in Des Moines until she was 12, when she and her family moved to St. Paul, Minnesota.

There, Fairgrave attended Madison School and Mechanic Arts High School and graduated in 1920. Fairgrave's interest in aviation was sparked the day before she graduated, when President Woodrow Wilson visited Minneapolis. President Wilson's visit was commemorated by a flyover and was the first airshow of any kind that Fairgrave had witnessed.


Known as the “godmother” of early Tennessee aviation, Phoebe F. Omlie started her career as a barnstormer, wing walker, and stunt pilot. She and her husband Vernon settled in Memphis in 1922 and opened Mid-South Airways, the first flying service in the Southeast. In the late 1920s and early 1930s she attained prominence representing the Mono Aircraft Company in national air races.

Omlie was the first woman appointed to a federal aviation post. From 1933 until 1936 she served as special assistant for air intelligence with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (the predecessor to NASA). From 1941 until 1952 she worked with the Civil Aeronautics Administration (the forerunner of the FAA). Omlie introduced the federal airmarking program through the Works Progress Administration, and prior to and during World War II she started schools for primary flight instruction and aircraft mechanic training.

In the late 1930s Omlie introduced aviation into the Memphis public school curriculum, a program that the federal government adopted for its Civilian Pilot Training Program. She and W. Percy McDonald, head of the Tennessee Bureau of Aeronautics, authored legislation that provided the state with funds to improve airports and provide pilot training. In 1942 they started the Tennessee Women’s Research Flight Instructor School to ease the pilot shortage in World War II. The program graduated one class of ten and received national recognition but was not adopted and funded by the federal government. After retiring from aviation in 1952, Omlie ranched, ran a restaurant, and traveled as a public speaker.

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Phoebe Omlie's Timeline

November 21, 1902
Des Moines, IA
July 17, 1975
Age 72
Indianapolis, IN
Forest Hill Cemetery Midtown Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee