Dorothy “Dot” Swain Lewis
September 30, 1915 – September 9, 2013
Training Location: Avenger Field (Sweetwater, Tex.)
Planes flown: PT-17, BT-13, AT-6, AT-10, B-26, P-40, P-63
Assigned bases: Columbus Army Air Field (Miss.) and Laredo Army Air Base (Tex.)
Born just outside of Asheville, North Carolina to the respected lawyer John Edward Swain, and his concert pianist wife, Mozelle Stringfield Swain.
Her passion was as an artist and teacher, having studied at the New York Art Students League in New York during the 30’s after graduating from Randolph Macon College for Women in 1936, and subsequently, receiving her Masters of Fine Art from Scripps College in the 50s.
Lewis got her airplane pilot’s license in 1941 and then spent some months working for Piper Aircraft in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. In 1942, she was one of 10 women chosen for a special flight instructor training program established by aviation pioneer Phoebe Omlie. After receiving her commercial pilot and ground instructor ratings, she went on to train four classes of naval aviators. She then joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program, where she both taught trainee pilots and herself flew fighters and bombers on maintenance and training missions. Aircraft she flew included the Bell P-63 Kingcobra, Martin B-26 Marauder, and Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. She remained in the Air Force reserve until her discharge in 1957.
After the war, Dot worked as chief flight instructor at the Daytona Beach airport and participated in a number of air shows such as the 1st All Women’s Airshow in Tampa Florida where she performed dangerous aerobatics in a J-3 Cub, remaining an Air Force reservist until honorably discharged in 1957.
She married Florida resident Albert Z Lewis, then, after separating, moved west where she taught for many years at the Orme Ranch School, a college preparatory high school located on a working cattle ranch near Mayer, Arizona, teaching science and history courses, horsemanship and flying, as well as art and art history, while establishing the highly successful Fine Arts Festival, now in its 45th year, bringing many fine professional artists together with high school students in a unique learning experience.
As an artist, she produced paintings, drawings, lithographs, etchings, other print-making, ceramics, sculpture, and bronze castings, including the official portrait of US Attorney General Janet Reno. She also created a series of cast-bronze sculptures of “The WASP Trainee,” a young woman in a flight suit striding looking skyward with the inscription “We Live in the Wind and Sand and our Eyes are on the Stars” on the base, placed at various World War II memorial sites, including the US Air Force Academy Honor Court, High Ground, Neilsville, WI, the National WASP Museum in Sweetwater, TX, and College Park Aviation Museum, College Park, MD. She created a bust of aviator Jacqueline Cochran for the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport in Thermal, California, and an oil painting of Cochran for the 99s Museum of Women Pilots at the headquarters of the Ninety-Nines (the International Organization of Women Pilots) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. She illustrated the book We Were WASPs by her fellow aviator Winifred Wood. Her biography and art presented in a book by Ann Cooper, How High She Flies, published in 1999.
In 2010, she received the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian award, in a special ceremony in Washington DC, as a member of the WASP in commemoration of their ground-breaking service and achievements in World War II. In addition, she received numerous other awards, including RMCW Distinguished Alumnae Award, Women in Aviation International’s Pioneers of Aviation, and a special Red Cross Award signed by FDR for, as a camp counselor, resuscitating and saving the life of a young girl struck by lightning many years ago.
Her students, colleagues and friends remember Dot for her unique ability as an artist to see and encourage the beauty in each person that she met. That special beauty lives on in her artwork, her home, and in the hearts of her many friends and relatives.
Visit the WASP Virtual Museum to see the Art of Dorothy Swain Lewis