Curt Brown
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Cora Fuller, a 37-year-old bookkeeper, climbed into the pilot's spot on a four-seat Stinson Detroiter airplane and took off from the Fairmont Airport in southern Minnesota on the windy last day of April 1931. She was under the watchful eye of F.H. Longeway, a Minneapolis federal aviation inspector.

"She made six landings for the inspector yesterday," the Fairmont Daily Sentinel reported, "performing perfectly in spite of the fact wind made it a hard day for accurate flying."

Cora Fuller.
Cora Fuller.

Martin County Historical Society

In addition to her three "spot" landings, Fuller piloted another trio of 180-degree landings and took an hourlong written exam.

"Mrs. Fuller is one of few women I ever heard of passing the private pilot's license test perfectly," said Longeway, clearly impressed. "I don't recall that any of the local boys got 100 percent. She does a good job with that big Stinson."

Fuller became the first woman in Minnesota to earn a private pilot's license that day 92 years ago. Today, there are nearly 1,000 licensed female fliers in the state.

"There may have been other women that piloted airplanes in Minnesota before her, however, she was the first to be issued a pilot's license," said Lenny Tvedten, executive director the Martin County Historical Society in Fairmont.

Fuller's enclosed, black Stinson monoplane, with a propeller up front, was a sleek-looking breakthrough in its time.

"The Detroiter was a rather sophisticated airplane in an era when most training was done in open cockpit biplanes with two seats," according to a 2021 article in Minnesota Flyer magazine.

Born Dec. 12, 1893, Cora May Rouse was the fourth of five children of a Fairmont-area farmer. In 1921, She married Roy Fuller, a produce manager 10 years older than her. He was a pilot, too, and "they shared a love for adventure," according to Martin County researcher Liz Wheeler.

Cora turned 10 just five days after the Wright Brothers' first flight in 1903 in Kitty Hawk, N.C. Six years later, Wilbur Wright flew over a million spectators gathered at New York Harbor — a canoe strapped on the bottom of his plane just in case of a water landing.

Those early flights "seemingly made an impression on a teen girl from Fairmont," Wheeler wrote on Fuller's page, posted in 2020.

Census records show Cora kept the books at a creamery and a drugstore when she was not up in the air. She also loved playing golf. Nearly a decade into her marriage, she starting taking flying lessons from another Fairmont pilot named Floyd Eltgroth. After eight hours of instruction and two hours in the sky, she piloted two five-minute solo trips at 500 feet over Hall Lake — banking her plane and landing smoothly to earn a student's license.

"She stepped off the plane as cool and collected as if stepping out of an automobile," Eltgroth said.

Cora Fuller’s license.
Cora Fuller’s license.

Martin County Historical Society

By the time she earned her license with that perfect score on April 30, 1931, she'd "handled a plane alone in the air for 30 hours," or triple the required flying time, the Fairmont newspaper reported.

Her log books racked up 8,162 miles in her first year as a pilot, Tvedten said. Keep in mind, she completed that first year just as Amelia Earhart climbed in a red Lockheed Vega on May 21, 1932 — flying 15 hours from Newfoundland to Northern Ireland to become the first woman and second flyer after Minnesotan Charles Lindbergh to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

While Earhart flew into fame, heightened by her mysterious disappearance in 1937, Fuller was largely forgotten.

But not completely.

Three years ago, and nearly 90 years after Fuller's license-earning perfect test flight, a St. Paul restaurant christened a new lounge in her honor. Cora's Lounge, a stylish addition to Holman's Table, opened in a converted 1939 airport terminal area at Holman Field, the St. Paul Downtown Airport.

"We were … looking for a name for the new lounge, and it popped up that Cora Fuller was the first female pilot to get her license in Minnesota, so we figured it just made a ton of sense to name it after her," said Troy Reding, owner of Holman's Table.

Fuller died at 78 in 1972, 32 years after Roy. They're buried together in Fairmont's Lakeside Cemetery.

Curt Brown's tales about Minnesota's history appear every other Sunday. Readers can send him ideas and suggestions at His latest book looks at 1918 Minnesota, when flu, war and fires converged: