Edith Whatley McKanna, pioneer aviator and independent oil producer, was born about 1899 to Daniel and Elizabeth (McGregor) Whatley on the family farm, between Waco and McGregor in McLennan County. She never told the year of her birth. While she was small the family moved to Fluvanna, where relatives had had ranching interests since 1880; her uncle Douglas McGregor was instrumental in Fluvanna's development and was its first postmaster. Her father, who worked as a farmer and water-well driller, became owner of the Cross C Ranch in Borden and Dawson counties. After completing high school in Fluvanna, Edith attended Sacred Heart Academy in Waco, the Academy of Mary Immaculate in Wichita Falls, and Columbia University. She married James Everett McKanna, an independent oil operator who, with her father, helped develop the shallow Sharon Ridge oilfield in the early 1920s. Often she accompanied her husband over miles of dirt roads in his Model T during the rush era of the West Texas and Arkansas oil booms. Before McKanna's untimely death in 1932, they had a daughter.
Mrs. McKanna became the first woman in Texas to receive a pilot's license and to own her own plane. During her flying career she logged well over 3,000 flying hours. She became a charter member of the Ninety-Nine Club, composed of the first ninety-nine women pilots in America. After American entry into World War II, she volunteered for the Civil Air Patrol and donated her plane to the war effort. For three years she served with the rank of captain at the air force headquarters as a liaison for the Civil Air Patrol and the United States Army Air Force.
In 1945 she returned to Scurry County, organized the Imperial Oil Company, and began securing leases. When her discovery well, the Ossie Buffalo, blew in on the Fuller field, Edith McKanna became the only woman oil operator in the oil boom that centered around the Canyon Reef field. By December 1949 she controlled 86,000 acres and had seven producing wells. She often visited the rig sites on her leases in a white hat and white gloves, a trait she reportedly adopted "to let them know a lady was on the site." She never ventured onto the derrick floor, however, since "man's work" was done there. Time magazine referred to her as the "Lady in the Oil Patch" in a 1949 article, and in February 1951 Mrs. McKanna was awarded a scroll of distinction in the field of petroleum by Vice President Alben Barkley, as one of seven of the Southwest's most distinguished women. She developed her Rock Ledge Farm, near Fluvanna, into a showplace.
Mrs. McKanna maintained an interest in Japanese culture. She was a member of Ikebana International, having received her professorship in ikebana at Saga School in Kyoto, Japan. She organized the Woman's Golf Association and was a National Garden Club member. In Scurry County she was a founder of the Martha Ann Woman's Club, a life member of the Snyder Garden Club, a chairman of the Scurry County Historical Commission, and a director of the Snyder Country Club. She was a leading benefactor of Western Texas College and its Scurry County Museum, to which she donated the Japanese water garden that surrounds the facility. She led in the restoration of the historic Dodson House, in conjunction with the Snyder Garden Club, and served as its furnishings chairman. Edith McKanna was a charter member and officer of the Ranching Heritage Association in Lubbock. She assisted substantially in the restoration of the Harrell House on the Ranching Heritage Center grounds and gave the furnishings for the McKanna Parlor, in memory of her parents, at the complex's orientation center. She was a Presbyterian. She died at Cogdell Memorial Hospital in Snyder on March 26, 1986, and was buried in the Fluvanna Cemetery.
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Ranch Record, Spring 1985. Scurry County Book Committee, Footprints across Scurry County (Lubbock: Specialty, 1984). Hooper Shelton, comp., From Buffalo...to Oil: History of Scurry County, Texas (Snyder?, Texas: Feather, 1973). Snyder Daily News, March 26, 1986.
Oil and Gas Industry
Oil Entrepreneurs and Wildcatters
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
H. Allen Anderson,
“McKanna, Edith Whatley,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 20, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
April 1, 1995
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: