Pilots and Patriots: Barbara Miles as Ruth Law
by Denise Rush
Barbara Miles dressed as Ruth Law.
Barbara Miles, historical archivist for the New Hampshire Aviation Historical Society, will go to just about any length to portray the life of Ruth Law, pioneering aviatrix of the early 1900s. In fact, one might say—the sky’s the limit! Miles not only dresses in costume to depict this patriotic pilot, she’ll talk-the talk, walk-the-walk, and has even gone so far as to loop-the-loop in the wild blue yonder herself—all in the pursuit of an accurate understanding and feel for the woman whose life Miles has researched for nearly two years: Ruth Law, a woman who skyrocketed to fame and fortune in her era, but whom history seems to have forgotten for the many aviation firsts that she accomplished.
On Tuesday, October 9th at the Old Town Hall Museum, approximately 40 members of the Salem Historical Society got to “meet” both of these outstanding female figures, as they witnessed Miles’ colorful transformation into the Ruth Law persona, cleverly incorporating hats as props to signify the different ages and phases of Law’s life.
Ruth Law in the early 1900’s.
Dressed in knee-high-laced boots and an army green uniform (complete with dangling medals, one a replica of the original that Law received for her World War I recruitment efforts), Miles (or should I say Ruth Law) stood, saluting the crowd, stating she was reporting for duty to “fight the Kaiser.”
Taking the audience by surprise, she then skipped across the front row, heralding Ruth Bancroft Law’s early childhood days when she was a young girl living in Lynn, Massachusetts, where she played with her brother, Rodman, and learned to “throw a ball like a boy.”
Then came the hat changes and theatrics that Miles peppered into the mix with enthusiastic gusto in order to bring to life Law’s aviation firsts and her many impressive endeavors. A sampling of the highlights follows with accompanying props and sound effects used by Miles in her presentation noted within parentheses:
- (Miles dons a red straw hat): It is 1907. A student at Ms. Livermore’s private academy in New Haven, CT, the wide-eyed Ruth Law is in awe as she sees her first plane in the sky and falls in love with the idea of flight.
- ·It is now1912: Law witnesses the plane crash into Boston Harbor of aviatrix, Harriet Quimby and passenger in their monoplane. Law blames the monoplane design and is determined to fly a biplane. Ruth marries Charles Law at 21 years of age. They travel to Dayton, Ohio to buy a Model “B” Wright flyer from Wilbur and Orville Wright. (Miles makes a quick hat change to a leather flying cap.) Ruth is the first woman to make a solo flight, 500 feet. She earns her pilot’s license the summer of 1912.
- May 30, 1914: Ruth Law flies over Rockingham Park, Salem, New Hampshire at the Salem Fair. Her brother, Rodman, parachutes from the plane. She becomes the first woman to fly in New Hampshire. Later, she becomes the first woman to set an altitude record.
- 1917: Law becomes the first woman authorized to wear a military uniform, but she is denied permission to fly in combat. She is also the first woman after the war to wear the U.S. Army uniform and the first woman recruiter for the U.S. Air Corps. (The hat comes off.) Law is now living in Daytona Beach, Florida, where she performs aerial stunts and becomes a wing-walking daredevil in the Ruth Law Flying Circus. She is the first woman to loop-the-loop. She now earns $9.00/week.
- (A winter hat is adorned by Miles with gray gloves and fur scarf.) Law trains to set a long distance flight record, sleeping on the roof of a hotel in Chicago. She later becomes the first woman to fly at night and the first woman to set the world record for long distance flying from Chicago to New York. (Miles makes some sputtering plane sounds.) Law glides her out-of-fuel plane made mainly of cloth and wood to New York’s Governor’s Island, where President Woodrow Wilson greets her. He later chooses Law to become the first woman to illuminate the Statue of Liberty, circling it three times, with magnesium flares on the tips of the plane’s wings and a sign that reads “Liberty” on the fuselage. In 1922 Law retires from aviation.
- (Miles dons a purple fedora with a purple veil that overshadows her eyes.) Law is now a millionaire, living in Hollywood, socializing with Tyrone Power and Katherine Hepburn. She now teaches stunt pilots, lectures to girls about aviation, plays cricket, and takes up knitting—a hobby a lot easier on the finger joints than her earlier days spent whittling wooden struts for her planes.
- (The purple hat comes off.) It is now 1970. Ruth Bancroft Law dies.
Though Barbara Miles’ presentation ended on this rather sad note, her quest to learn more about her historical hero did not. Traveling to Lynn, Massachusetts, Miles searched for—and found—this patriotic, pioneering pilot’s burial site. There, off in the distance in the far reaches of the Pine Grove cemetery, sits Ruth Law’s final resting place, high on a hill, overlooking Boston Harbor, where the planes pass overhead every 10 minutes on their final approach to Logan Airport.
Barbara Miles as Ruth Law.
Barbara Miles has been a pilot since 1994. She, too, can loop-the-loop and has flown piper cubs, tail-draggers, and Vampire jets. She holds a Master’s degree in Archives Management and has served as an archivist at the New Hampshire Aviation Historical Society for five years. She is also a scholar of the Humanities Council where her quest to research the life of Ruth Bancroft Law began when she posed the question: “Did any female aviatrix come before Bernice Blake, another NH female pilot in 1928?” She has since researched the Smithsonian, and has traveled the state portraying Ruth Law. In her costumed depiction, Miles also proudly wears her grandfather’s World War I medal and her mother’s World War II medal, earned for typing the Hiroshima Survey (a report of bombing incidents that, quite coincidentally, were photographed by her father who served in World War II as an aerial photographer.)
For more information on the life and history of Ruth Law, you can read the book: Before Amelia by Eileen Lebow, or simply meet her alter ego, Barbara Miles.
Doris Bluemel with her painting, donated to help raise money for the Historical Society.
Quilting at Ingram Senior Center
by Robyn Hatch
The Ingram Senior Center welcomes quilters who are members of the Center every Monday from 9 – 11 a.m. There are approximately 10 to 15 ladies who help each other, toss around new ideas, and just have a good morning filled with laughter. The instructor is Thurley Allen who comes up with great ideas with the members and is right there to give instruction and support. Right now there is a waiting list. All projects are put together by each individual quilter for personal use. Membership is free for the Ingram Senior Center members. If you enjoy quilting and are a member, don’t be afraid to get on the list.
Joyce Desrosiers and Nelly Distefano with their newly designed bags.
Beverly Coyle with her beautiful quilt.
Soule School Gets Help for Crowded Classes
by Judy Wakefield
A cramped storytime.
The principal at Soule School is hoping the new instructional aide who will help with the crowded fourth grade will be on board by the end of the month.
The school board voted on Tuesday, October 9, to hire the aide for the two fourth grade classrooms at the elementary school. One class has 28 students while the other fourth grade has 29 students. The aide will work with students in both classes.
“I am excited about this and the teachers will be, too. I am happy to have the school board’s support on this,” Anna Parrill, principal at Soule School, said on Wednesday when she learned of the board’s vote for the hiring.
School board member Patricia Corbett was perhaps the biggest supporter of the hiring as she said the school system should have a policy of no more than 25 students in a class.
School Superintendent Michael Delahanty agreed, saying big classes is an educational issue that needs to be dealt with. He was comfortable with 30 students in a class, but changed his mind after listening to Corbett.
“Perhaps I took the easy way out with 30 students,” he said.
Both Delahanty and Parrill agreed that Soule’s current high enrollment of 57 fourth graders is just a blip. The rest of the classes at Soule have between 23 and 25 kids. “They are right where they should be,” Parrill said of the other classrooms. “Twenty-eight or 29 may not seem like much more, but it is.”
The school serves 230 students in grades one through five.
Enrollment blips in Salem schools don’t happen very often as the district typically sees just one or two additional students in a grade each year, Delahanty said. He had enrollment data from five years ago to make his point. The enrollment numbers varied little.
Soule’s crowded fourth grades were not the only items discussed at last week’s meeting. Also discussed:
WiFi (wireless internet), and it will have to wait as the board agreed to use that account’s money to pay for upgrades to the school department’s problematic computer system. Agreeing with Delahanty, the board voted to use about $40,000 set aside for WiFi to instead purchase routers, blades, switches, and software, and to add more memory to the school department’s computer system. Delahanty said spikes in use during certain parts of the day — like attendance time in the morning — caused the servers to slow down and sometimes crash. Many people complained. Some teachers had to re-enter as many as 80 grades for progress reports at Salem High School and they were not happy about that. Delahanty said the update will make the computer system “contemporary.” “My goal is to make technology just another part of the day and not have any frustration,” he said. As a result, installing a WiFi system will be delayed at least a year.
Salem High’s proposed $40 million renovation, which must be approved by town voters next year, was also discussed. Delahanty said he plans to talk a bit about the renovation at every school board meeting up to voting time and push for its passage. At this meeting, he said some 90 percent of high schoolers are now scoring in the proficient category on state required tests. Changes in graduation requirements at the school could be in the future. “Aspirations are higher for our students and we may need to offer more (classes),” he said. Renovation plans call for upgrading the school and getting more classroom and laboratory space. Plus classrooms for special education would be improved.
Just one bid was received for the snow plowing contract for the school department. The bid was $1,500 over last year, but last year’s light snowfall resulted in the school department having $55,000 left over in the account.
Future meetings are scheduled for October 16 and 23, and November 2.
Another crowded classroom - Mrs. Ciaramella's 4th grade class.
Storytime in Mrs. Ciaramella’s class.
High School Holds Freshmen Reception
by Robyn Hatch
As is tradition for many years, Salem High School had their annual freshmen reception. This was made up of almost all the Salem students who witnessed a night of comedy, skits, poking harmless fun at the freshmen, and ending up as a semi-formal dance. Everyone had a great time.
Last year’s King and Queen - Liz Merriken and Dan Kinney.
This year’s King and Queen - MacKenzie Miller and Conor Woelfel.
by Jay Hobson
After the required three public sessions concerning the sale of town-owned land to Mr. and Mrs. Tony Shum, 247 North Main Street, the board voted 3 to 2 not to approve the sale.
The Shums had sought to purchase the land that abuts their property from the town, in order to create more privacy and to shield themselves from possible development of nearby property. They stated that they had no plans to develop the land in question.
Discussion was held with Engineer Bob Puff noting that it would “be a shame to have to come back 25 years from now and take it back by eminent domain.” He noted that there was a possibility of locating a waste water lift station on the parcel if water and sewer lines were ever put in the area.
Chairman McBride noted that the remaining two parcels of land in the three parcel plot seemed large enough to sustain a lift station and that stipulations that would bar development of the land could be included in the sale. “This could be a win-win situation,” McBride said.
Selectman Roth indicated her reluctance to overrule a paid department head whose recommendation was to not sell the land.
Selectmen Roth, Barnes, and Lyons voted against the measure with Selectmen McBride and Hargreaves in favor.
In other business:
The board voted unanimously to return $413, 290 in impact fees to the school district.
A 3 to 2 vote of the board resulted in the stop sign at the curve on Cluff Road by Kensington Place to be scheduled for removal.
Selectman Hargreaves brought up a situation in Exeter where a public official was arrested for trespassing because he entered a property without the homeowner’s permission. Hargreaves suggested a disclaimer be put on water and other bills requiring town officials to be on a homeowner’s property. The disclaimer would in effect note that the homeowners gave permission for the town employee to be on their property when on official town business.
Chairman McBride indicated that he had no problem with the idea.
Town Manager Sistare added that if a homeowner wouldn’t let an assessor on the property then the property would be assessed at a higher level “in order to get their attention” and promote future compliance.