Welcome to a new history blog! For this blog, we will be showcasing Harriet Quimby, the first American woman to become a licensed female pilot.
Harriet Quimby was born May 11, 1875, at an unknown location in Michigan. With the absence of a birth certificate, many communities within the state have claimed
she was originally born there. Growing up in Michigan, Quimby and her family moved out West to California when she was a young teen. The relaxed atmosphere of California influenced Quimby, a person with a desire for romance and adventure.
While she resided in California, she briefly looked into acting and determined that writing was more her strong suit. Throughout her childhood, Quimby was described as “a tomboy full of spunk.” This personality certainly didn’t fade as Quimby entered adulthood and she started in a “less-than traditional” position as a staff writer for the San Francisco Dramatic Review. Although her career as a writer was successful- she even earned the name of “California’s Premiere Newswoman”- this wasn’t enough to satisfy her need for more adventure. Quimby then moved to the bustling streets of New York City and continued writing for Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly as well as other popular news organizations.
Thanks to her journalism career, Quimby was in the financial position where she could explore other interests such as traveling. This fed into her need for adventure and she even wrote several articles about her travels. Years before Quimby would soar in the air, she was fascinated by automobiles and soared through the streets instead.
After writing an article about a Japanese aeronaut, she became more interested in flying, and started to become a frequent visitor of New York airfields. In October of 1910, she accepted an assignment to cover New York’s Belmont Air Meet. After visiting Belmont, Quimby found her new passion. It must’ve been witnessing John Moisant zip to the finish line or the thought of relishing the sun while flying through the endless sky, whatever it was, Quimby wanted to experience it herself. She reported back to her friends that flying appeared quite easy and she was confident that she would be able to pull it off. Quimby became friends with Moisant, who owned a flight school, and convinced him to teach her the basics of flying. She even pushed through after Moisant was involved in a crash, resulting in his death in December of 1910.
May of 1911, Quimby convinced the editor of Leslie’s to fund her flying lessons in exchange for her stories of her experience for the magazine's readers. The media was quickly interested in the rumor of a female pursuing a pilot’s license. Since no other woman has done such a thing, the rumor became more intriguing. Quimby was quick and eager to study, dreaming of being at the forefront of American aviation.
On August 1, 1911, Quimby became the first woman to obtain a pilot’s license. She then created this persona of aviator and cover girl with her new license on hand. After multiple reports, Quimby got used to her new life on the other side of the camera. Quimby then joined an exhibition group and participated in multiple meets. She quickly became friends with the second woman to obtain a pilot’s license- Matilde Moisant, John’s sister. Less than a month after getting her license, Quimby won her first cross-country race. On September 4th, she became the first woman to fly at night, earning a sum of $1,500 for her 7-minute night ride.
Quimby was known to be a safe pilot, following all safety protocols and was dedicated to pre-flight checks. She eventually wrote an article on how to avoid the dangers of flying and helped establish a checklist for the aviation community.
Later on in her career, Quimby headed out to the Harvard-Boston Aviation Meet where she would be one of the headliners. Opening day was a success with multiple interviews following, Quimby decided to try out the course that was laid out for the next day. She decided to take a passenger with her, who ended up being William Willard. During her flight, Quimby’s Bleriot crashed, resulting in both pilot and passenger tossing out of their seats and landing within a body of water 300 feet from shore. Throughout the years, there have been debates on what caused the crash. Some say it was because a woman couldn’t handle flying, others say that it could have been prevented if they were strapped in properly.
Although there isn’t much of an explanation on how the crash happened, it is no secret that Harriet Quimby opened doors for the generations of female pilots after her. She showed America a different side of women and didn’t conform to the gender norms that were expected of most women. She pursued her dreams with determination and perseverance, resulting in her success.
Read more about Harriet Quimby here: https://www.nationalaviation.org/our-enshrinees/quimby-harriet/
Jenny Duong is a newly recruited Social Media Volunteer at Hera Aviation Group. She currently studies Global Business and Marketing at Southern New Hampshire University.
Jenny enjoys traveling and often visits family in Vietnam during the summer. She also enjoys spending time with her dog, Macie, often binging reality TV together. Their current guilty pleasure is the Bachelor franchise! Her biggest inspiration are her two older siblings even after all the teasing.