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Vance, Esther Combes, 1903-1983. NWDA

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Vance, Esther Combes, 1903-1983


Biographical History

Esther Combes Vance was the first woman licensed to fly airplanes in Montana, and the twenty-second in the nation. She was born August 19, 1903, in Clinton, Indiana, the daughter of William and Dicy Pastre Combes. The family moved to Sidney, Montana, and in 1921 Esther graduated from Sidney High School. Four years later she received degrees in both physical education and teaching from the University of Washington. In August 1925 she married Earl Vance, owner of a commercial flying business in Sidney. In 1928 Esther Vance became licensed first as a private pilot and then as a limited commercial pilot. She served as business manager and treasurer for Vance Air Service in Great Falls until the business was destroyed by fire in 1931. From then until Earl's death in 1944, she assisted him in a variety of jobs. After his death she moved to Missoula, Montana, where she worked in the registrar's office at the University of Montana until her retirement. Earl Vance was born January 13, 1896, in Washington, Indiana, the son of William and Jennie Jacobs Vance. He studied at Aberdeen Business School, graduating in 1916. In 1917 Vance entered the army, enrolling in Flight Training School. He was discharged in 1919 with the rank of second lieutenant. From 1919 until 1939 he was engaged in a variety of flying occupations, including barnstorming, running his own flying service, working as a commercial pilot for National Park Airways, and doing aerial mapping for the U.S. government. In 1940 he was recalled to active service as a captain and training officer. During World War II he served as base commander at Walla Walla, Washington; Topeka, Kansas; and Alexandria, Louisiana, earning the ranks of major and colonel. From 1943 to 1944 he was in charge of the Second Air Force's search and rescue section. Earl Vance died of a heart attack at the age of 48 on February 17, 1944, at Colorado Springs, Colorado.

From the finding aid for Esther Combes Vance Papers 1904-1977 (Montana Historical Society Archives)

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