August 2011 will be the 100th Anniversary of the first U.S. woman to qualify as an aviator. Ms. Harriet Quimby was her name, and she was a photojournalist from San Francisco, California. After being assigned by a weekly journal to cover the Belmont Park (New York) International Aviation Tournament for a feature story, like many of us today, Harriet immediately became smitten by aviation, and soon started taking flying lessons.
Ms. Quimby is not credited with being the first women in the world to receive her pilot’s licence - this place in history went to the French aviatrix Baroness de la Roche, a little over a year before Harriet made the history books in this country. Ms. Quimby is still a strong beacon to women who decide to follow a path into aviation either as a sport, or as a career.
On August 1st, 1911, pilot certificate number 37 was awarded by the Aero Club of America to Ms. Quimby. She was the second female pilot in the world, and the first in the United States.
After demonstrating her skills as an aviator across the U.S. to inspire other women to learn to fly, she attempted to make history again by becoming the first women to fly across the English Channel borrowing an aircraft from the famed Louis Bleriot, who had first claimed the title of World’s First ‘Cross Channel Pilot’ earlier in 1909. She is also credited with being the first women to have ever flown at night.
Unfortunately Ms. Quimby’s career was short lived. This inspirational lady pilot had a fatal mishap during a demonstration flight over Boston Harbour in July of 1912, when she and her passenger fell from their aircraft (they probably were not strapped-in) while circling the Boston Lighthouse. Her momentous career as one of the most famous lady pilots came to an end after only eleven months of flying as a pilot in-command.
Since Ms. Quimby was the first women to set foot on the new aviation pathway, thousands of women have followed her footsteps and made their own way in history. Some of the most notable ladies include: Ruth Law, Marjorie Stinson, Mary Riddle, Florence Lowe ‘Pancho’ Barnes, Amelia Earhart, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Ruth Nichols, Helen Richey, Willa Brown, Bessie Coleman, Beryl Markham, Elinor Smith, Jacqueline Cochran, Nancy Harkness Love, Emily Howell Warner, Mary Barr, Sally Murphy, Lynn Rippelmeyer, Beverly Burns, Jeana Yeager, Jackie Parker, and Patty Wagstaff to name a few.
Since women started flying 100 years ago, they have always had to jump more hurdles than men, in their quest to become career aviators. Much of this is due to sexism. Obviously like any other minority in an industry, women in aviation have often associated with other women of their like-mind, and therefore several organizations have been formed to help connect the dots between all aviatrixes. The most famous female aviation organization remains the ‘Ninety-Nines’, so named because at the very first meeting of this long-standing and successful organization in 1929, 99 licensed lady pilots were in attendance.
Other organizations, groups, associations and historical societies specific to the role of women in aviation that have also been formed over the past 100 years include: Women in Corporate Aviation, Women in Aviation International, Women in Aviation Maintenance, Girls With Wings, International Aviation Women’s Association, International Women’s Air and Space Museum, Women Airforce Service Pilots Collection, The Arizona Ruth Reinhold Collection, The George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers, The Dwight D. Eisenhower Library – Jacqueline Cochran Collection, NASA Oral History Project: Aviatrix Pioneers, Women in Aviation Club, Memphis Belles Organization, The Women Fly Project, ALPA: Cleared to Dream-Women in Aviation, Aviation and Women in Europe, The Leadership Development For Women In Aviation In Africa, WomenVenture, The Harriet Quimby Research Centre, Professional Women Controllers, Women Soaring Pilots Association, Association of Flight Attendants, Australian Women Pilots Association, British Women Pilots Association, Clipped Wings, International Society of Women Airline Pilots, Japan Women’s Association of Aeronautics, National Sundowners, New Zealand Association of Women in Aviation, Technical Women’s Organization, The International Forest of Friendship, The Jerrie Cobb Foundation, The Mercury 13, TWA Clipped Wings, Whirly Girls, Women in the Military, and Women Military Aviators.
I can honestly say that from my personal experience, lady pilots are the best pilots that I have ever flown with, or have been flown by. The usual pushback that most women experience when pursuing a professional career in aviation, is in my mind both archaic, and embarrassing. So much so, that I joined and am a member of Women In Corporate Aviation, so I can try and be part of the solution, instead of part of the problem, that most lady aviators face. This new year of 2011 is an ideal opportunity for all us to be mindful of female aviators, and to salute all Aviatrix-minded women, and if we can, to also give them a helpful push in the right direction. I raise my glass and toast you all, especially Ms. Quimby who started it all in this great country, the U.S.A.