Women Aviators

RGV Women's History Exhibit Images

Ila Fox Loetscher (left). Image courtesy of The Turtle Lady Legacy and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

RGV Women's History Exhibit Images

Ila Loetscher on beach patrol. Photo courtesy of Sea Turtle, Inc. and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Ila Loetscher

Ila Fox Loetscher (1904–2000), know affectionately as the "Turtle Lady", was also a pioneering aviator. She was the first woman to earn a pilot's license in Iowa and Illinois. Loetscher corresponded with Amelia Earhart and was a charter member of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of licensed women pilots.

Loetscher attended Central College in Pela and eventually earned a BA from University of Iowa. When her husband of 32 years died, she moved from NY to South Padre Island.

Ila Loetscher became a sea turtle enthusiast on a trip to retrieve endangered Kemp's Ridley turtle eggs from Mexico to establish a rookery on South Padre Island. In 1977, she received a state license to care for sick and injured sea turtles, founding Sea Turtle, Inc.

Loetscher patrolled beaches to search for nests and protect eggs. Eventually, she installed tanks and began caring for turtles and hatchlings at home. Injured turtles were treated until they could be released back into the Gulf.

She was a national celebrity during her lifetime and Jacque Costeau's 1982 Almanac credited Loetscher with "having done more than any other human being to focus attention on the plight of the Kemp's or Atlantic Ridley [turtles]..."

RGV Women's History Exhibit Images

Image courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command. Captain Rosemary B. Mariner (1953 ─ 24 January 2019) was the first woman to command an operational naval aviation squadron, 12 July 1990. She led VAQ-34 during Operation Desert Storm and retired as a captain in 1997 after 24 years of service.

Rosemary Mariner

Born in Harlingen Capt. Rosemary Mariner (1953-2019) always wanted to become a pilot. By age 17 she had already earned her private pilot's license.

Mariner was the first woman to earn an aeronautics degree from Purdue University and was among the first women to fly jets in the U.S. Navy. Capt. Mariner was also the first woman to command an Operational Naval Aviation Squadron when she led VAQ-34 (callsign Flashbacks) during Operation Desert Storm.

Later Capt. Mariner earned a Master’s degree in National Security Strategy and served as staff to the Joint Chiefs at the Pentagon. She retired after 34 years of military service, 17 carrier landings, and 3,500+ military flight hours in 15 different Navy aircraft.

She was instrumental in the repeal of restrictions on women serving in combat.

Women Aviators