Somebody you don’t know but you should – The story of Harriet Quimby is an amazing story of one of the most courageous people I have ever known. Harriet defines the word pioneer. Harriet exemplifies courage in the face of uncertainty and the fear of unknowningness. But honestly, what I find most impressive about her is that she was a woman who did the impossible in a time in which women didn’t do these things.
Harriet Quimby was a trailblazer in aviation and a trailblazer in Women’s Rights. More importantly, she was woman of tremendous strength and courage. Again, honestly, I’m very impressed with her and I can’t say this enough. She is someone that is a treasure to me and a pleasure for me to share with you. Let me begin.
We all remember Ameila Earhart and her courageous efforts that she made in flight. Long before Amelia, there was a courageous woman by the name of Harriet Quimby.
Harriet Quimby was the first woman in this country to get a pilot’s license. She is also the first woman to fly across the English Channel alone. What is even more amazing is this happened in 1912!
Harriet was a beautiful and vivacious woman in her 30s. She was a drama critique for a New York Magazine called, “Leslie’s Weekly.” She met a pilot by the name of John Moisant who also owned a flying school. Her words to this glamorous flyer were: “Teach me to fly.” Mosiant’s reply was: “Anytime.” Unfortunately Mosiant was killed in a tragic plane crash, but Harriet had befriended Matilde Mosiant, John Mosiant’s sister. They became fast friends. Matilde, by the way, was the second woman to earn a pilot’s license in the U.S.A.
Harriet spent four months and thirty-three lessons at the Moisant School. She studied in a Bleriot monoplane. This plane was designed by Louie Bleriot, who was the first pilot to fly across the English Channel in 1909.
Harriet would fly the reverse route in the same type of plane in 1912. She would fly alone. I know this might sound pedestrian to you. Let’s consider this, Harriet flew without instruments, the only instrument she had was a hand-held compass she had in her lap. She also took off in fog, flew much of the flight in fog and had no radio communication. Talk about taking off into total uncertainty. Actually, it sounds quite insane! Especially in 1912!
Somebody you don’t know but you should – Harriet Quimby was successful against all odds in her endeavor. Her success would be heralded throughout the U.S.A and Europe. Along with her triumphs as an aviation “Femme Fatale” was her flying suit: a plum colored “satin backed by wool” with a monk’s cowl “that kept her hair in place and her ears warm” with “almond shaped goggles” – years ahead of their time. This was her trailblazing and fashionable flying outfit.
There was one person who thought that Harriet could not accomplish the Channel flight. He was certain, but he saw her off by giving her a hot water bottle to keep her warm. He even offered to fly the Channel wearing her plum flying suit. She laughed him off, ofcourse.
Sadly, Harriet had a tragic accident at an airshow in New York shortly after her Channel flight. She and her co-pilot were pitched from her Bleriot during a dive. This plane had a history of this. At this time there were no harnesses in the plane to secure the pilot’s safely and so prevent this. Today’s pilots owe a tremendous debt of respect and admiration to these early aviation pioneers. Without their sacrifices and courageous willingness to adventure into flying’s vast uncertainty we would not have the safety that we all share today.
Harriet Quimby contributed significantly to this progress, so much so that a U.S. Postal Stamp was issued in her honor and memory. The Stamp was issued in 1991 in Plymouth, Michigan.
In 2009 The Los Angeles Times ran a short piece on a French pilot, Edmond Salis, and his attempt to recreate the first flight of Louie Bleriot across the English Channel. Sadly, Harriet was not mentioned at all.
Somebody you don’t know but you should – Harriet Quimby is a remarkable and inspiring American woman who helped paved the way for American aviation and Women’s Rights. She is definitely someone you should know.