Tag Archives: early aviators

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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Amazing Female Aviators of the Early 20th Century ~ Bessie Coleman

I love research and I’m looking forward to an autumn of delving into the background for the next novel in my Riduna series. (Having been prompted by several readers to do so) Sometimes it is the ‘blind alleys’ you get absorbed in that give you a gem of an idea for the future and my discovery of so many female fliers in the early part of the 20th Century certainly stirred my imagination.

Bessie was extra special. Not only was she female but she was also poor and black. Bessie used her intelligence wisely and she wasn’t deterred from her quest by prejudice of any kind. In fact it made her even more determined. She achieved a lasting legacy in her short life which affected many.

Here’s Bessie’s story:

Bessie Coleman 1892 – 1926 ‘Queen Bess’

Background and inspiration to fly ~ One of a family of thirteen children of a sharecropper Bessie had to walk four miles to school each day, where she excelled in mathematics. In 1915 she worked at a barber’s shop as a manicurist which is where she heard stories of pilots arriving home from WW1. 

Aviation achievements ~ She dreamed of learning to fly but even black US airmen wouldn’t train her so, undeterred, she learnt French and headed to Paris. In 1921 she became the first African American to obtain her international aviation licence. Still unable to make a living flying in the USA, or to find anyone willing to train her as a stunt pilot, she returned to France gaining instruction there and in Germany too, by a pilot at the Fokker Corporation.

On returning to the US she appeared in air displays and became known as “The world’s greatest woman flier.”

“I decided blacks should not have to experience the difficulties I had faced, so I decided to open a flying school and teach other black women to fly,” Bessie was noted saying.

Death ~ Unfortunately she did not live long enough to fulfil this dream because in 1926 a plane she flew in with William Will crashed and both died.

Noteble difference ~ It was after her death that she made the impact she’d hoped for in life, when Bessie Coleman Aero Clubs sprang up throughout America.

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