The Fight for Women's Rights

Premiere Date: Jan. 8, 2019

Join Ann Curry as two women search for friends and colleagues who forged a path for equal rights. One of the first female commercial pilots wants to thank her mentor, and an advocate hopes to find the woman who inspired her to join a movement.

Read more about the episode below

Season 2, Episode 6

The Fight for Women’s Rights

Aired: 2019-01-08 54:20 Expires: 2019-02-06

Two women search for friends and colleagues who forged a path for equal rights.

More About the Episode

Most women born into 1950s America were expected to become homemakers and faced inequality in the workplace. But by the 1960s, women were determined to champion equality between the sexes.

Lynn Rippelmeyer as pilot in cockpit.Lynn Rippelmeyer as pilot in cockpit.Courtesy Photo

Lynn Rippelmeyer

Lynn Rippelmeyer grew up on an Illinois farm and received her college degree in English education and psychology at the University of Illinois. After working as a teacher, she was hired to be a TWA flight attendant in 1972 and moved to New York. Lynn loved watching the pilots at work and the world of flight but assumed there was some legitimate reason that women were not allowed to be commercial airline pilots. When friends in Vermont offered flying lessons, she seized the opportunity and found she had a passion for flying. Over the next five years, she received the required training to become an instructor and charter pilot in Miami. She also returned to school to get her pilot flight engineer rating.

In 1976, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had begun including airlines in their fair-hiring requirements. Air Illinois, a small commuter airline with 20 pilots, decided they needed two females and hired Lynn as a Twin Otter first officer and Emilie Jones as a captain. Concerned that customers would be worried with two women at the controls, Emilie and Lynn were told they could not fly together. There had to be a male present in case anything went wrong, and to keep from scaring the passengers away.

Lynn RippelmeyerLynn RippelmeyerCourtesy Photo

On the stormy day of Dec. 30, 1977, Lynn and Emilie were the only pilots able to get to the airport. With no other options, the women were allowed to fly the plane together but told not to make any announcements and to keep the cockpit door closed. Fighting through the stormy weather, Emilie and Lynn successfully flew that day’s schedule of six flights, making history as the first all-female crew for a scheduled airline.

They were then scheduled to fly together on a regular basis until Lynn left to fly for TWA as a B727 flight engineer one year later. There, she became the first person in the airline industry to transition from flight attendant to pilot; she also became the first female pilot to fly a Boeing 747 (1980); and the first female to captain a 747 transatlantic flight (1984). Years later (2000s), inspired by her daily flights to Honduras as a B737 Captain and single mom, Lynn founded ROSE, the Roatán Support Effort, a nonprofit charitable organization that collects, transports and delivers donated supplies and equipment to Roatán, Honduras. Lynn believes that the wonderful career and amazing life she enjoys would not have been possible without her mentors, one of whom was the first female captain she ever met, Emilie Jones.

Zoe Nicholson

Zoe (left) sitting on roof with dog.Zoe (left) sitting on roof.Courtesy Photo

Zoe Nicholson has been an activist, speaker, writer and organizer for over 50 years. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in theology from Quincy University (1969), and a Master of Arts in ethics from the University of Southern California (1975). She began her professional life teaching high school for five years. In 1976, Zoe opened a women’s bookstore called The Magic Speller in Newport Beach, California.

The Magic Speller became a feminist hub where prominent writers made appearances during their book tours. In 1981, Zoe’s life was transformed when feminist activist Sonia Johnson came to visit and sign her new book, "From Housewife to Heretic." Known for being ex-communicated from the Mormon church and shunned by her family, Sonia was working towards ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.

Determined to show solidarity with Sonia, Zoe went to Springfield, Ill., and embarked on a 37-day fast with Sonia and five other women in a protest demanding the ratification of the ERA as an amendment to the Constitution. Despite hospital visits, collapsed lungs, threats against the women’s lives, and Sonia becoming dependent on a wheelchair, the opposition won, and the ERA did not get enough states to ratify it. All seven women said their emotional goodbyes and went back to their hometowns across America.

Group of women - FastersZoe Nicholson (center)Courtesy Photo

After the sale of her bookstore, Zoe served a year as the director of the Free Clinic of Orange County.

In 1985, she completed the program at Computer Learning Center and worked in the hi-tech industry for 15 years. Recently, she has worked researching American Suffrage and the American Women’s Movement. Zoe consults on the Equal Rights Amendment and is an independent scholar on Alice Paul.  She has continued her activism in Orange County and Los Angeles, expanding her advocacy to include economic justice, labor, women’s rights and LGBTQ. She is a member of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE), a lifelong member of NOW and currently serves on the Long Beach Human Relations Commission.

Zoe, now 70, lives in Long Beach, Calif. She has continued to use the confidence that Sonia gave her during their fast and is a passionate activist. She is the author of four books: "The Engaged Heart," "The Hungry Heart – A Woman’s Fast For Justice" (her memoir), "Matri – Letters From The Mother," and "The Passionate Heart," all published by Lune Soleil Press. Zoe is the writer and performer of “Tea with Alice and Me,“ a one-woman show on Alice Paul, suffrage and the ERA.

Zoe has never forgotten Sonia Johnson. With both of them getting older and the possibility of the ERA passing during their lifetimes, this year seems like the perfect time to find and thank the woman who inspired her 36 years ago.

The Moment We Met | Interviews From the Show

The Moment We Met | Interviews From the Show

Lynn Rippelmeyer: 'Captain Literally Made the Impossible Possible'

Posted by We'll Meet Again Editor on

Zoe Nicholson: 'The Springboard of My Courage Was Sonia Johnson'

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Juan Diaz: 'I Was Experiencing for the First Time a Superman, a Hero'

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Nelson Figueras: 'Embracing Her Was an Emotional Moment That I Shall Never Forget'

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Jim Owen: 'They Were Models of Real Marines'

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