Lady Mary Heath ~ Extraordinary Female Aviator in the Roaring Twenties

Background and Inspiration to Fly

Mary Heath’s unfortunate start to life, when her father was found guilty of murdering her 220px-Mary,_Lady_Heathmother, did not seem to hamper her development and ambition. Brought up by her grandfather and two elderly aunts, she took an active part in sport and passed a degree in science in Ireland. In WW1 she became a dispatch rider, initially in England but then in France. In her early years her achievements were in sport rather than aviation. In 1925 she was part of a delegation to an Olympic Congress in Prague and her journey by aeroplane changed her life. (photo from Wikipedia)

Her achievements

In 1926 she became the first female aviator to be a commercial pilot by gaining an A licence and she also flew Shorts seaplanes. (Diana’s eyes light up here!) In January 1928 Mary Heath made her name known worldwide, by her solo flight in her Avian from Cape Town to the UK. (Celebrate by Tracey Curtis Taylor this winter – see my last post) In the same year she went to the USA where she hoped to gain a position with KLM, but her gender was against her. Undeterred she continued to work in aviation.

Notable difference

Lady Heath married her third husband Reggie Williams in Lexington Kentucky in 1930, with each marriage securing enough income to continue to fly. The pair returned to Ireland for a further wedding ceremony causing more notoriety, since Reggie was from Trinidad and inter-racial marriages were extremely rare. They both worked as aviation instructors for Iona National Airways.

Death

Mary had a most unfortunate end after such a glamorous life. She developed a serious drinking problem and died in London in 1939 at the age of 43 years – a sad end for a person who fought for equal opportunities in the public eye for so many years, whether it be gender, racial or social standing. She certainly had a story to inspire, although her demise was so very tragic.

For more information on Mary visit:

Wikipedia       Irish Historical Aviation        Eclectic Ephemera blogspot

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6 Comments

Filed under Early Flight, Events, Flying Boats and Sea Planes, Frivolous Flying Facts, Memoirs, Role of Women, WW1

6 responses to “Lady Mary Heath ~ Extraordinary Female Aviator in the Roaring Twenties

  1. Great post Diana. Such a fascinating story but a sad sad end.

  2. My aunt was a pilot in the 30’s. In my research about my aunt and the era I discovered Lady Mary. What a remarkable woman. She was not fond of Amelia and sided with Elinor Smith. Elinor was a suberb pilot but was kept out of many flights because of George Putnam. It’s sad that very few people have heard of Lady Mary or Elinor. Thank you for bringing Lady Mary to the public.

    • There were certainly some characters. They had to be tough I suppose and in some cases quite ruthless to achieve their ambitions. Your research must be extra special because she is a relation. You’d be more than welcome to write a guest post on my blog. My posts are varied but I do quite a bit about aviation in one form or another. Good to be in touch. Diana

  3. Lady Mary Heath’s story is really inspiring. At the time, most aviators and commercial pilots were men. The apparent absence of women pilots in the commercial flying ranks failed to discourage her from becoming the first one to be so. If not for her tragic end, she could have been more than what she was — gaining more glory as a woman aviator.

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