Louise McPhetridge Thaden was born on November 12, 1905, in Bentonville, Arkansas, daughter of Roy and Edna McPhetridge. She grew up in Arkansas, attended three years of college, and then left to become a sales person for Travel Air Corporation in California in 1927. In May 1928 she received her pilot license, and by the end of the year had set a new altitude record of 20,260 feet. Three months later, she set a new U.S. women’s endurance record, staying aloft for more than 22 hours. In 1929, she earned a transport pilot license, only the fourth woman to do so.
In 1929, she won the Women’s Air Derby, defeating both Amelia Earhart and Pancho Barnes. She then set an endurance record, remaining aloft for 196 hours with co-pilot Francis Marsalis (with refuelings). That year she married Herbert Von Thaden, a pilot and aeronautical engineer, and moved to Philadelphia.
During the 1930s, she continued to set altitude, endurance, and speed records, becoming the most famous female aviator of the golden age of aviation next to Earhart. In 1935, Thaden and three other female aviators toured the United States for the Bureau of Commerce, promoting the practice of airmarking (painting compass points and geographic references on rooftops and hillsides) as a navigation aid for pilots. In 1936 she became the first woman to win the National Air Races' Bendix Trophy in the first year that women were allowed to compete, setting a new east-west record of just under 15 hours, as well as the Harmon Trophy. Thaden retired from full-time competition in 1938. She also published her memoirs that year.
In 1931, with Amelia Earhart, Thaden co-founded the Ninety-Nines, an organization of women pilots. During World War II she worked with the Civil Air Patrol and the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Service in the late 1950s.
The Bentonville, Arkansas, airport was renamed Louise Thaden Field in 1951. Thaden died of a heart attack in High Point, North Carolina, on November 9, 1979.