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Spirit of New China: 1939

Spirit of New China: 1939

April 3, 1939. Washington, D.C. "Col. Roscoe Turner, winner of speed trophies in the air, dropped down to Washington Airport today with a red high-wing monoplane which he presented to the friends of New China, represented by Miss Hilda Yen, Chinese Aviatrix. The plane, 'Spirit of New China.' was built by the Porterfield factory." Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.


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Turner's threads

Turner, who had been a pilot in WW1, customarily wore a uniform patterned on Army officers' "pink and greens," but his blouse and cap were a French blue shade, not green.

In deference to active duty personnel, he would deliver test planes to military bases in full formal day clothes, including striped trousers and a bowler hat!

How I first became aware of Hilda Yen

I first became aware of Hilda Yen through my wife's great aunt, Harriet Holbrook Smith, in her letters home from Yale in China (1926) and compiled into a book, "Healing, Romance and Revolution". Harriet comments several times regarding Hilda, recognizing her as an exceptional young woman at an early age of 19 or 20.

From the book:

"Hilda (Yen aka Hilda Yan) is a beautiful girl and wears the most attractive Chinese clothes imaginable, quite distinct from any of the other Chinese girls here."

"Hilda is a charming host but the poor girl is having a thin time here. She enjoys a good time and is so very attractive but all her outside frivolities with us are contrary to her parents’ wishes. She was to have gone with her uncle W.W. Yen to England this year, at least that was the premise that brought her here to prepare a wardrobe, but he is to be Premier now but no one knows for how long."

For more insight, visit here.

Family history!

Wonderful picture! Hilda was my grandfather's first cousin, so I was thrilled to find this photo. To ACElkins re the Calendar Girl, however, it's more likely that picture is based on another Chinese Aviatrix, Lee Ya-Ching.

Calendar Girl?

As I collect Chinese Posters of the 1920's and 1930's this Image and Story was quite interesting to me and perhaps might put a Name on a Face for one of the posters in my collection. I had always assumed this calendar poster to be a stylized poster of a Modern Lady, as flying as a passenger was exotic enough in those days, but perhaps it might be a representation of Hilda Yen the Aviatrix herself!

The kid in the background

is the best part of this picture!


Fly me to the moon, Miss Yen!

Villainous Mustache

Col. Roscoe Turner looks the heavy in a drawing room comedy.

Hilda Yen

Washington Post, May 5, 1938

Miss Hilda Yen Will be Feted

Miss Yoeh Wang, daughter of the Chinese Ambassador, will introduce Miss Hilda Yen at the garden meeting this afternoon at 4 o'clock at Mrs. Harold Walker's Georgetown Home.

The daughter of the President of China's Red Cross and formerly official hostess for her uncle, W.W. Yen, Chinese Ambassador to Russia. Miss Yen is a Smith College graduate and an aviatrix. Next autumn she plans to fly through the country on a lecture tour. Later, she will return to China to assume a post as flying instructor.

Washington Post, March 21, 1939

2 Chinese Girls Flying Here to Seek War Relief Funds

Miss Hilda Yen, Chinese aviatrix and niece of Dr. W.W. Yen, former ambassador to the United States and Miss Lee Ya-ching, daughter of a Hongkong brick manufacturer, will land at Washington Airport at 3 p.m. Friday on a tour of America to raise funds for countrymen made homeless in the Japanese War.

Washington Post, May 2, 1939

Hilda Yen Injured as Plane Crashes

Hilda Yen, famed "good will" aviatrix, was painfully injured yesterday when her plane "Spirit of China" crashed in a field near Prattville, Ala. She was en route to Birmingham for a banquet as part of her tour of the country to raise funds for war-torn China.

And now...

...the rest of the story

Chicago Tribune May 2, 1939 - Injured in Crash -
Montgomery, Ala., May 1. (AP) Severely injured when her plane, "Spirit of New China" crashed today, Hilda Yen, Chinese girl flyer, regained consciousness in a hospital here tonight and said, "I would gladly die for the cause."

Her monoplane fell near Montgomery in and attempted takeoff from a field where she had landed to ask directions.

Miss Yen, 25 years old, is a niece of Dr. W. W. Yen, former Chinese ambassador to the United States. She was en route from Monile to Birmingaham, Ala., on a tour of America in behalf of Chinese war refugees. Known as China's Amelia Earhart, the girl had flown for Madame Chiang Kai-Sheck and had traveled extensively in her small red ship.

Baha'i World, XV, 1968-73, pp. 476-78...After surviving a plane crash she determined that she had a higher purpose, and she went to the war-torn China in 1942 to help in any way she could, then returned to the United States in 1944...

...In 1945 Hilda joined the Department of Public Information at the United Nations, and traveled all over the United States to lecture and win support for this new world organization...

...Hilda Yen passed away on March 18, 1970.

Love at first sight

Looks like smilin' Roscoe Turner is a bit smitten with the daring Miss Hilda

Smilin' Jack

This is a real "Smilin' Jack" photo if ever there was one. (For those who don't know, Smilin' Jack was a comic strip that featured great drawings of classic aircraft in every strip.) I believe Roscoe Turner was the guy who flew around with a pet lion cub as his campanion. The Chinese aviatrix is straight out of a Terry and the Pirates strip. Super cool picture.

I like the little guy in the back with the glasses and plaid over coat. He looks about 9 there, so he may well still be with us. Bet he has great memories of that day. If you look at the reflection on the wheel fairing, you'll see there was quite a crowd gathered to witness this shot.

Chaqueta a cuadros

Me encanta el chaval de la chaqueta a cuadros y las orejas de soplillo. La media señora de la izquierda ¿será la madre del piloto?

Aviatrix and Diplomat

Hilda Yen (1905-1970) was born into a family of wealthy Chinese intellectuals and diplomats. From age 8 to age 12 she lived in New Haven, CT, when her father was studying medicine at Yale, and she later returned to the US, where she graduated from Smith College. After returning to China, she toured internationally in the 1930s to bring attention to the Japanese conquest of China. She later served in the United Nations, and, like other members of her family, converted to the Baha'i faith.

Classy lady

I love how elegant this woman is in this photo. The white peep-toe slingback pumps, the white Cheongsam, and the fur capelet all convey ultra-femininity, combined with her own mad pilot skills, make this one of my fave Shorpy pix.

In 10 years

Miss Yen wouldn't have much use for that fur coat but at least the plane is the right color.


We need more words like that these days.

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