Flying With America’s Most Famous Female Aviators

Dozens of talented women preceded Amelia Earhart, and thousands have followed, and each has her own groundbreaking story to tell

(Library of Congress)

Well-mannered women were not supposed to engage in the daring and dangerous pursuit of aviation when a journalist named Harriet Quimby talked her editor into paying for her flying lessons in 1911.

Just eight years after Orville and Wilbur Wright made history for taking the first successful flight, the vocation was considered to be firmly a man’s domain.  But despite those critical of women engaging in aviation, Quimby decided to pursue her pilot’s license.

Quimby was not the first woman who wanted to pilot her own aircraft. Indeed, in 1880, May H. Myers, later dubbed "Carlotta, the Lady Aeronaut," earned a reputation for her ballooning skills and even established a world record when she went four miles high in a balloon filled with natural gas instead of hydrogen. Nevertheless, as Quimby chronicled her story for Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, she became an object of media fascination. She proved her critics wrong though when on August 1, 1911, she became the first American woman to earn a pilot’s license (License No. 37).

Woman aviators have come a long way since Quimby’s time. Learn about some of history’s greatest fly girls who helped blaze a trail in the sky for others to follow.

Harriet Quimby (1875-1912)

Harriet Quimby
(Library of Congress)

Inspired by a story she was reporting, Quimby, a journalist by profession, became the first female licensed pilot in the United States in 1911. She immediately made several memorable exhibition flights, including a moonlit night flight over Staten Island, New York. The next year she became the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel, just three years after Louis Blériot first accomplished that feat. A few months later as hundreds looked on during an aviation meet in Boston Harbor, she fell to her death out of a plane flying at 1,500 feet.


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