Whilst researching for ‘Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home’ I read a great deal about early aviators and was exciteded to read about Harriet Quimby, even though it had nothing to do with my novel. Anyone writing a novel knows how easy it is to get sidetracked and it led to me finding out about other female pioneers in aviation. After all, everyone has heard of Amy Johnson and Amelia Earhart from the 1930’s, but I was surprised to discover many women whose endeavours matched those male counterparts of their era as far back as 1910! Their daring to venture in what was seen as a man’s world accomplished much more than their achievements in flying alone, although these were certainly remarkable. They also designed clothes, opened factories, begun flying schools and fought prejudice at many levels. They were not, as I had imagined, all rich young ladies with plenty of time on their hands, but women who dared to be different.
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Harriet Quimby 1875 – 1912 ‘The Green Eyed Beauty’
Background and inspiration to fly ~ Harriet Quimby came from a poor American family, but by working herself up from journalism and theatrical writing she became a competent and successful screenwriter for the silent movies of her time. It was after attending the Belmont Park Air Tournament on Long Island that she decided she must learn to fly.
Aviation achievements ~ In 1911 she gained her pilots licence and became the first female American to gain an Aero Club of America Certificate. As many pilots of her day, Harriet gained experience and a way to fund her ambitions by participating in several air shows, but her main achievement was in April 1912 to be the first woman pilot to fly across the English Channel.
Death ~ Unfortunately she met her early death as a passenger in a two-seater Bleriot, only three months later in July 1912.
Notable difference ~ Harriet was also noted for her beauty and her dignified manner, but her other notable legacy was that she designed a suitable style of dress for women pilots of her day. She was known for her purple satin one piece flight suit which converted into pants (trousers) when flying but to a skirt when out of the aeroplane so that she did not offend the dress expectations of her era.
Harriet Quimby certainly moved the women’s movement forward in her own way and her fashion sense would amuse and please a friend of mine I visited recently who still keeps up to date with what is fashionable.