With Her Own Wings: The WASP travelling exhibit

This exhibit is currently entirely self-funded by Noëlle Alexandria.

The what: A traveling exhibit, with free entry and donations to help fund it.

The goal: To tell the story of the WASP through the ordinary women who did extraordinary thing, with five women as touchstones.

Noëlle in her second replica uniform in front of a T-6 at Avenger Field, April 2024.
Noëlle in her second replica uniform in front of a T-6 at Avenger Field during WASP Homecoming, April 2024.

The purpose: No one will travel to see Avenger Field or go to any museum or education center or anywhere else even slightly out of their way to learn more about the WASP if they don’t first know who the WASP are.  This means reaching out to people, going where they are, and educating them and enticing them to want to learn more.

The thought: When we see exhibits on overall group, we never get to know the individuals, and when we don’t get to know them, it’s easy to see them as starting from a place of perfection and springing forth into this world as already extraordinary.  This can leave us with a sense of why bothering to try to emulate them.  If I can personify the WASP, show who some of them are as people, their varied backgrounds, their varied lives after service…even their deaths during service, for which they were denied military honors…the viewer may walk away not only with knowledge about who these women were and are, but inspired to reach for goals they didn’t think possible before.

The vision: Five women, three who made it through training, two who did not, to approximate the ratio of those who made it and those who washed.  One will be one of the 38 who gave their lives.  Show where they came from.  Let the visitor get to know them as people in their earlier lives, warts and all.  Let little girls see children like themselves. Show their motivation, then their training.  Let the visitor see that not all made it, and let them sit with that.  Show the work it took as a WASP, the tired days, the joys, the difficulties.  Fill in the holes as needed with general information.  The visitor would still be seeing it through the eyes of our wonderful pilots.  Then show where their lives went afterward.

The visitor should leave with a sense of personal connection with at least one of these women, and girls should leave able to see themselves as able to do extraordinary things too, as the girls pilots they just as young girls did, and through this connection, they should have an understanding about the program as well.

Noëlle as a reenactor at Avenger Field during WASP Homecoming April 2023. Uniform is a modern reproduction that has since been remade to much more accurately depict the originals, but the pins are originals that once belonged to Elizabeth Lora Gardner, 43-W-6.

The challenges: Financial limitations, limited artifact availability, and needing familial cooperation.  As more things from the WASP are donated to archives, some sadly never to see the light of day again, the things still in private hands are becoming fewer, and the costs are rising.  Noëlle knows that buying everything would require massive funding or being a millionaire, so would need to borrow things she can’t buy, or work out payment plans.  This means needing to find families willing to share stories who are also willing to either affordably sell or donate, or loan items.  The point of an exhibit is to see tangible links to the past with your very own eyes, not to look at digital images on the internet.  There is a magic to seeing in person.

The inspiration: Noëlle organized a Girl Scout event to help a troop of Brownies earn a badge.  Her role in this event was historian, to teach the girls about a handful or early aviatrixes.  Among those she selected, with an eye toward broader representation (kids need to see themselves represented to see themselves doing), were two WASP.  These girls were already entranced, but when she pulled out a set of WASP wings, and let those girls hold those wings in their hands, two of them burst into tears.  History wasn’t in the past in that moment for those girls.  It was real, and it is now.  And that’s when Noëlle knew she had to do something to not only tell people who don’t know about the WASP, but to bring history alive but putting it in front of them to see with their own eyes, and to perhaps hold in their own hands.

The motivation: They were the ones who, along with her WAAC grandmother, told Noëlle that girls absolutely can too fly planes, no matter who says girls shouldn’t fly planes, and guess who now fly planes.  To thank them for what they did for her and for the ground they broke, Noëlle wants to make sure they are never forgotten, and the best way to do that is to make them a personal for visitors as they are to her. These women deserve it, and more.

The person: Noëlle is currently president of the Rose City branch of Women in Aviation, a licensed pilot, and her passion is outreach and spearheading WASP-related events, including Rose City WAI’s annual Honor the WASP Memorial remembrance tour.



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