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There is no biographical file for pilot Donnell in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum (NASM), Washington, DC. She has no Web presence that I could find.


Your copy of the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register with all the pilots' signatures and helpful cross-references to pilots and their aircraft is available at the link. Or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author, while supplies last.


http://www.cafepress.com/content/global/img/spacer.gifThe Congress of Ghosts is an anniversary celebration for 2010.  It is an historical biography, that celebrates the 5th year online of www.dmairfield.org and the 10th year of effort on the project dedicated to analyze and exhibit the history embodied in the Register of the Davis-Monthan Airfield, Tucson, AZ. This book includes over thirty people, aircraft and events that swirled through Tucson between 1925 and 1936. It includes across 277 pages previously unpublished photographs and texts, and facsimiles of personal letters, diaries and military orders. Order your copy at the link.


Military Aircraft of the Davis Monthan Register, 1925-1936 is available at the link. This book describes and illustrates with black & white photographs the majority of military aircraft that landed at the Davis-Monthan Airfield between 1925 and 1936. The book includes biographies of some of the pilots who flew the aircraft to Tucson as well as extensive listings of all the pilots and airplanes. Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author, while supplies last.


Art Goebel's Own Story by Art Goebel (edited by G.W. Hyatt) is written in language that expands for us his life as a Golden Age aviation entrepreneur, who used his aviation exploits to build a business around his passion.  Available as a free download at the link.


Winners' Viewpoints: The Great 1927 Trans-Pacific Dole Race is available at the link. What was it like to fly from Oakland to Honolulu in a single-engine plane during August 1927? Was the 25,000 dollar prize worth it? Did the resulting fame balance the risk? For the first time ever, this book presents the pilot and navigator's stories written by them within days of their record-setting adventure. Pilot Art Goebel and navigator William V. Davis, Jr. take us with them on the Woolaroc, their orange and blue Travel Air monoplane (NX869) as they enter the hazardous world of Golden Age trans-oceanic air racing.


Clover Field: The First Century of Aviation in the Golden State. With the 100th anniversary in 2017 of the use of Clover Field as a place to land aircraft in Santa Monica, this book celebrates that use by exploring some of the people and aircraft that made the airport great.


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Rachel Donnell, April 7, 1920, Passport Photo (Source: ancestry.com)



Rachel Donnell was born September 28, 1891 in Worcester, MA (I have also seen Maine as her state of birth). Her father, Albert Webb Donnell (b. 1859), was a magazine writer, as was her mother, Annie. She had an older sister, Dorothy, at the time of her birth, and would acquire a brother, Lloyd, in 1895.

The 1900 U.S. Census, her first, placed her with her family living in Readfield, ME. Her father's occupation was listed as "Illustrator" and her mother's as "Writer." She was a well-regarded writer of young women's novels.

In 1910 the Census placed her at age 18 living with her family in Worcester, MA. She had acquired another brother, Kenneth, now 7 years old. Her widowed maternal grandmother lived with them. Her father's occupation was now coded as "Farmer."

I found information that she was a graduate of Smith College with a bachelor's degree. She also graduated from the University of Michigan with an M.D. degree in 1915. That she was born in 1891 and received her M.D. in 1915 would have made her 24 years old, a young age to be so accomplished in academia. She must have been accelerated in secondary school and at Smith College. A copy of M.D. recipients at commencement from the University of Michigan is below.





Rachel Donnell, M.D., University of Michigan, 1915 (Source: Woodling)
Rachel Donnell, M.D., University of Michigan, 1915 (Source: Woodling)

For at least a year after her graduation from medical school, she was on the faculty of the University of Chicago in the Department of Pathology. A page from the 1916 University of Chicago student catalog is below.

Rachel Donnell, University of Chicago Faculty, 1916 (Source: Woodling)
Rachel Donnell, University of Chicago Faculty, 1916 (Source: Woodling)

I found documentation that Donnell was enlisted in the U.S. Navy May 1, 1917 and released November 11, 1918. The yellow card, below, documents her period of service. Note that she was recruited and spent 335 days as a Yeoman 1st Class, Female. She was promoted and spent another 224 days as a Chief Yeoman, Female. The specifications for those ranks are outlined at the link. Her area of responsibility was the cable censors office (but, see 1920 Census, below). Notably, Donnell was among the first 13,000 women to be recruited into active duty in the U.S. military. The women received the same benefits and responsibilities as men, including identical pay. They were treated as veterans after WWI. Not only was she a pioneer aviator, she was a pioneer member of the U.S. Navy.

Rachel Donnell, Record of U.S. Navy Service, 1917-18 (Source: Woodling)
Rachel Donnell, Record of U.S. Navy Service, 1917-18 (Source: Woodling)

The 1920s began a busy and productive time in her life. Curiously, she appeared on two Census forms for 1920. The first, coded on January 5th, placed her living in Ann Arbor, MI with her family. Both her parents' occupations were coded as "Magazine Writer." Her younger brother, Lloyd (24; see below) was working as a "Mechanical Engineer." Rachel was 28 years old and coded as not employed. The second 1920 Census, coded ten days later on January 14th, placed her living as a "Lodger" at the "Dormitory of Housing Corporation" in Washington, DC. She lived with many other women. All the people (more than an entire Census page-full), were women employed in some area, mostly clerical, of the U.S. government. Her occupation was coded as "Translator" for the "Treasury."

Soon after the Census forms were coded, Donnell applied for a U.S. passport on April 7, 1920, below.

Rachel Donnell, Passport Application, April 7, 1920 (Source: ancestry.com)

As stated below, Donnell was affiliated with the newly-founded (April 1917) American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker pacifist organization. I don't know what her function was with the AFSC, or how it related to her being in the navy, but the volunteers generally helped civilian victims of warfare replant crops and rebuild homes, commercial buildings and medical facilities. Below is the second page of her passport application, including the only photograph I have of her, showing that her new passport was to be sent to the AFSC at a Philadelphia address.

Rachel Donnell, Passport Application, April 7, 1920 (Source: ancestry.com)

Below is the third page of her passport application.

Rachel Donnell, Passport Application, April 7, 1920 (Source: ancestry.com)

A letter, below, filed with her passport application, certified her affiliation with AFSC.

AFSC Cetification Letter , April 3, 1920 (Source: ancestry.com)

I don't know the date she traveled to Europe, but her return to the U.S. was documented on a U.S. Immigrations form that listed her sailing aboard the S.S. Adriatica from Southhampton, England to New York on July 20, 1921. Part of an undated memorandum, below, included her impressions of serving with the AFSC.

R. Donnell, Undated Memorandum, Ca.1929 (Source: Woodling)

Simultaneous with her service in Austria, a brief statement appeared in the Smith Alumnae Quarterly. It stated, "Rachel E. Donnell is doing relief work among the starving babies in Austria. Address, 16 Singerstrasse, Vienna." The city directory for Los Angeles, 1924, identified her as an intern at the Los Angeles General Hospital. The 1928 San Fernando Valley directory identified her as physician at the Olive View Sanatorium.

The 1930 Census placed her living with many other people at 14600 Foothill Boulevard, Los Angeles. All the people (more than an entire Census page-full), men and women, were medical staff of one type or another: nurses, physiotherapists or physicians like Donnell. That address today lies under the Foothills Freeway (US 210). The location was identified as the clinic she worked in, the Olive View Sanatorium.

Abilene Morning News (TX), June 3, 1931 (Source: Woodling)
Abilene Morning News (TX), June 3, 1931 (Source: Woodling)


I don't know when Donnell learned to fly, but her younger brother Lloyd was a mechanical engineer in charge of the California Institute of Technology aeronautical structures research laboratory 1931-33. She learned, however, while executing her duties as a physician.

She landed once and signed the Register at the Davis-Monthan Airfield, on Sunday May 31, 1931 at 2:30PM. She was solo in the Great Lakes 2T1A she identified as NC543K (S/N 49). Based at Burbank, CA, she arrived at Tucson from Phoenix, AZ and identified her destination as New York.

We know from contemporary news articles that she flew coast-to-coast both ways during that summer. Her May landing was part of her itinerary, probably the stop at the end of her second leg from Phoenix. The Abilene Morning News (TX) reported her landing there on June 3rd, right. Note that she identified St. Louis as her destination the next day. The straight-line distance, Abilene to St. Louis is about 700 statute miles, a considerable distance for a 2T1A to fly in one day. Without her pilot log books, we'll never know if she spent the night somewhere in between.

Indianapolis Star (IN), June 9, 1931 (Source: Woodling)


The Syracuse Herald (NY), June 11, 1931 (Source: Woodling)


As she navigated her way east, she was next reported in the Indianapolis Star, June 9, 1931, left, for her landing the previous day. Her next stop was identified as Cleveland, OH. "Ruth Stuart" could be Register pilot Ruth Stewart who was based in St. Louis.

The Syracuse Herald (NY) on June 11th reported a landing in Syracuse on that day, right. Even though she was 39 years old, almost 40, the reporters still referred to her a "girl" flyer. Clyde, NY, where she was forced to land on the 10th, is just west of Syracuse. We learn that she required some unidentified repairs to her airplane. Perhaps the repairs were related to her forced landing at Clyde. Amboy is a small town northeast of Syracuse not in a straight line with New York City.

University of Michigan Alumni Magazine, 1931 (Source: Woodling)



Finally, her round trip was later summarized in notes for the class of 1915 in her alma mater magazine, right.

According to another immigration form I examined, Donnell traveled from Los Angeles to Ensenada, Mexico by ship (S.S. Ruth Alexander) on May 8, 1932. She was 40 years old. She traveled with her younger brother, Kenneth (29; 1903-1968) and her mother, Annie (69). Her mother and brother lived in The Palms community in west Los Angeles, not too far east of Santa Monica and Clover Field. Donnell lived in the Olive View area, north of downtown Los Angeles. I don't know the purpose of their travel, but it was probably for pleasure.

The 1940 Census cited her as a medical doctor serving at the county tuberculosis sanatorium in Olive View, CA. Her salary was coded as $3,180 per year, a good income for 1940. It is not clear from the Census if she had living quarters at the sanatorium, or if she lived elsewhere. The Sanatorium was where she was phyically when the Census was taken, so that's where she was recorded.

I do not know much about her life during the 1930s, or about her life from the 1940s to the 1980s. If you can help fill in the blanks, please let me KNOW. The University of Michigan alumni magazine published on October 15, 1955, stated, "Rachel Donnell, '15m, may be addressed at 6516 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, Calif. She retired six years ago, and has done a great deal of traveling." I don't know where that travel led her. She would have been in her mid-60s.

Donnell flew West thirty years later on March 26, 1984 at Los Angeles, CA at age 92. She flew with Private pilot certificate P14641. She had enjoyed a long retirement.

Ten days after I put this page online, I heard from Rachel Donnell's grand niece. Donnell's sister, Dorothy Donnell Calhoun was her grandmother. She states, "I met Rachel a few times, and remember her as a mild, shy, tiny woman.  My mother says that was her personality...until she put a stethoscope around her neck.  She practiced as a pediatric tuberculosis doctor."

Below is a chronology of her life compiled by Bob Woodling (right sidebar). Donnell's last known residence is now the Sunset 8 Motel.

1910 – A.B. from Smith College
1915 – M.D. from U of Michigan
1916 – Teaching staff - U of Chicago Medical School-Pathology Dept.
1917 –1919 US Navy - Cable Censors Office

1920 Census (1) Wash. DC -translator -Treasury Dept.
1920 Census (2) Ann Arbor, MI-living with parents
1920 works in Vienna, Austria for a short time in a home for children
1924 LA Directory – intern at LA General Hospital
1928 San Fernando Directory – physician (Olive View Sanatorium)
1930 Census - Los Angeles, CA physician
1931 Cross country solo airplane trip
1933 Active member of 99s – newsletter noted transport rating
1935 Western Flying Magazine Doctor Rachel Donnell, transport aviatrix and former owner of the little Great Lakes "Dickie Bird," finds the Kinner Sportster operated by John M. Webster and Bob Lusk conveniently based for her flying activity.”
1939 99s newsletter “Rachel Donnell, our charming nurse who makes people well at the Olive View Sanitarium, has resumed flying now that after-Christmas patients are back to normal behavior”
1940 San Fernando Directory – living at Olive View
1949 retires (from Olive View?)
1955 lives at 6516 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles

Donnell's NC543K also appeared a dozen times in the Register of the Grand Central Air Terminal (GCAT) during 1931-32. Unfortunately, the name of the pilot was not identified for any landing recorded in the GCAT Register. Likely the pilot was Donnell.


Dossier 2.4.16

THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 11/04/17 REVISED: 11/14/17, 11/18/17, 06/18/19

The Register

I'm looking for information and photographs of pilot Donnell and her airplane to include on this page. If you have some you'd like to share, please click this FORM to contact me.


Thanks to site visitor and grand niece of Rachel Donnell for providing some of the information on this page.


Thanks to Guest Editor Bob Woodling for help researching this page.


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