Tag Archives: Early 20th century aviators

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

Amazing Female Aviators in the Early 20th Century ~ Hilda Beatrice Hewlett

Hilda Hewlett is my favourite of the early 20th Century aviators I discovered whilst researching, not only because she was English but I was also surprised to find out that she opened a factory making planes for the war effort (WW1) near to where I live in Leagrave, Bedfordshire.

When I have time I hope to research Hilda’s story in more depth and I will share it with you but here’s her story in brief:

Hilda Beatrice Hewlett 1864 – 1943

Background and inspiration to fly ~ Born into a wealthy but large family, she was educated at Kensington Art School in wood carving, metalwork and sewing, all skills she used later in life. She married Maurice Hewlett, a successful novelist and poet, and through him Hilda became interested in motorcars, becoming a passenger and mechanic to a female racing driver, Miss Hind.

In 1909 she became a friend of an engineer Gustave Blondeau, through whom she gained an interested in aviation and began to save up to buy an aeroplane. She travelled to France where she worked alongside the men building her aeroplane, where she called herself Mrs Grace Bird.

Aviation achievements ~ They returned with the aeroplane, called The Blue Bird, and set up a flying school at Brooklands where Hilda learned to fly. At 47 years old Hilda is the first English woman to gain a pilot’s licence in 1911. Alongside their flying school, where incidentally Tommy Sopwith also learnt to fly, they began making aeroplanes.

Notable difference ~ In 1912 she moved to Leagrave in Bedfordshire where she set up her own aeroplane factory where women were trained to build planes for The Great War. By 1918 they employed 300 men and 300 women. (Even her sewing skills came into use here in sewing the fabric on the wings of the planes.) Later, she was the first woman passenger to make the 11 day through flight from England and New Zealand and she was also involved in a commercial airline.

Death ~ Hilda Hewlett died at 79yrs.

If you know of any other early female pioneers in flying then please drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you or write me an email diana@dianamaryjackson.co.uk

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Filed under Early Flight, Frivolous Flying Facts, Research, Role of Women, The Great War, WW1

Early 20th Century Female Aviators ~ Ruth Bancroft Law

Was my third brilliant aviator from the early 20th Century the first woman allowed to wear an NCO uniform? Of course she didn’t fight in battle and there were characters like Joan of Arc and Boadicea before her, leaders of war in their day, but nevertheless Ruth Bancroft was a strong willed lady who deserves to be remembered, despite the fact the it was her husband who put a stop to her flying exploits.

Here is Ruth’s story:

Ruth Bancroft Law 1887 – 1970 ‘Ruth Law’s Flying Circus’

Background and inspiration to fly ~ A student at a private academy in New Haven CT, Ruth Law saw her first plane in the sky and fell in love with the idea of flying. 

Aviation achievements ~ She gained her pilots licence in 1912 and set the non-stop cross country record from Chicago to New York. It is also claimed that she was the first woman to do a loop the loop and to fly at night.

During WW1 she formed ‘Ruth Law’s Flying Circus’ to raise money for the Red Cross where cars raced aeroplanes and she flew through fireworks.

Notable difference ~ Due to her determination to contribute in a more substantial way to the war effort she was dismayed at the army’s rejection of her application to fly for them, but finally they allowed her to wear an NCO uniform whilst raising money for their cause. The first lady ever to do so.

The New York Governor chose Law to illuminate the Statue of Liberty which she circled three times with flares on the tips of her wings and a banner with the word ‘liberty’ on the fuselage.

It is strangely her husband who decided enough was enough, and put a stop to Law’s flying antics, by writing her notice of retirement in the newspaper in 1922!

Death ~Ruth Law died at the good age of 83 years.

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Filed under Early Flight, Frivolous Flying Facts, Research, Role of Women, The Great War, WW1