In the early 1900s, aviation took flight with the first manned flight made famous by Orville and Wilbur Wright. This was only the beginning and aviation rocketed forward into its first century. We’ve all heard of the famous male pilots like the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Chuck Yeager, etc., but we seldom celebrate the women who paved the way for future aviatrix. Of course, we’ve all heard of Amelia Earhart, but there are some lesser known women who made waves in the aviation world early on. There are a few women that were crucial to aviation history in the last century that I will feature today – they truly paved the way into the future.
First American Female Pilot…
Up first is Harriet Quimby, born in 1875. A true pioneer in more areas than aviation, she was a movie screenwriter in addition to being the first American woman to obtain a pilot’s license. In 1910, Harriet attending the Belmont Park International Aviation Tournament and met John Moisant, the owner of a flight school, and his sister Matilde – from that moment her interest for aviation was born. In 1911, she took and passed her pilot’s test becoming the first American women to earn the Aero Club of America aviator’s certificate.
Although she only live to be 37, Harriet accomplished much in her short life such as writing 7 screenplays for silent movies, and becoming the first woman to fly across the English Channel in April of 1912. However, her spectacular accomplishment received little media attention as the RMS Titanic sunk the day before. Still, Harriet proved to be the forefront of aviatrix history – and it was only just beginning.
First Female Pilot in the World…
Raymonde de Laroche, born a few years after Harriet, became the world’s first woman to obtain a pilot’s license. Growing up, Raymonde was fascinated by sports as well as motorcycles and automobiles. In addition, she was inspired by the Wright Brother’s demonstrations in Paris and acquainted with many French aviators herself. She was determined to earn her wings and set out to embark on her first flying lesson on October 22, 1909. Her instructor’s aircraft could only seat one person, so she flew the airplane while her instructor taught from the ground! In 1910, Raymonde was given license number #36 becoming the first woman in the world to hold an Aero Club license.
Her love and enthusiasm in aviation continued to grow as she attended many aviation meetings around the country. She attended airshows, raced, and even drove as a chauffeur for officers during World War I when flying was still considered too dangerous for women. After the war, she pursued her goal of becoming the first female professional test pilot. However, she was tragically killed while co-piloting an experimental aircraft in 1919.
First African American Female Pilot…
Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman was a woman that broke more than just a female pilot record – she created a move towards ethnic diversity in aviation by become the first female African American to hold a pilot’s license. A native of Texas, Bessie’s life was marked by many of the struggles facing a young African American woman, but her life changed dramatically in her 20s when she moved to Chicago and found a job as a manicurist.
The stories heard of pilots returning from World War I inspired her, but she faced barriers to entry to flight school simply because she was a woman and she was black. However, this was just in the United States. She was encouraged by friends to study abroad and found a financial backer to do so. By 1920, she had worked her way through learning French and was off to Paris to begin her flight training. In 1921, Bessie earned her pilot’s license and spent a few months continuing to train and hone her skills – later that year she set sail for the United States and quickly became a media sensation.
Over the next few years, Bessie continued to break more cultural barriers and became a “barnstormer” (stunt) pilot that wowed audiences all over the country. She continued to work hard in order to make a life for herself, ultimately to open an aviation school for young African Americans. However, her dream never became a reality and she was tragically killed in an accident while ferrying a recently purchased aircraft home.
And That’s Only Just The Beginning…
Harriet, Raymonde, and Bessie all represent the beginning of women in aviation. They broke gender serotypes, pursued dreams, and showed the world that they weren’t afraid to go boldly into the majestic blue skies. They shocked people, they seized the day, and paved the path for their sister pilots behind them. I only talked about three amazing women from history, so be sure to check back next week to read about more women who pioneered the way for aviatrix all over the world.
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