10 Things To Know About Harriet Quimby

Harriet Quimby, the year she got her pilot certificate

It’s the first Friday or September already? That means it’s time to start our new historical theme of the month. And I will try to make sure @Gazette665 has more social media this month. When finishing a manuscript that has a deadline some things are let go…

This month we’ll be featuring ten aviation pioneers and ten things you should know about them! We’ll start with Harriet Quimby who accomplished a major aviation and women’s history milestone.

Here are the top ten things you should know about Miss Harriet Quimby…

  1. Her Birthday Was May 11, 1875

…and she was born in Michigan. In 1875, people talked of flying in the way we talk about going to Mars. It would happen, eventually. Plenty of inventors messed around with the theory of flight, built flying machines, and died in the attempts.

After spending her early years in Michigan, her family moved to San Francisco

2. She was a successful journalist

Harriet began her journalistic career on the West Coast, then moved to New York City in 1903 – the great city for writers in that era. She review plays and became a theater critic for Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly. In her nine years writing in NYC, Harriet had two hundred fifty articles published in just nine years!

3. She became interested in aviation at an airshow.

In 1910, Harriet attended Belmont Park International Aviation Tournament in New York. Just seven years after the Wright Brothers first successful powered flight, aviation attracted the daring who were already developing new models of aeroplanes and pushing those aircraft to the maximum to perform stunts.

The world of flying intrigued Harriet. She wanted to fly, and luckily she had been the right folks at that tournament…

4. She learned to fly with famous aviators.

John Moisant and his sister Matilde took Harriet under their wings, literally. John – known as the “king of aviation” to his generation – was a skilled flight instruction and enterprising entrepreneur, looking for ways to build the public’s interest in flying through expeditions and other performances. Matilde was proving that women could learn to fly these new aeroplanes and would actual become the second American woman to receive a pilot license.

The Moisant siblings befriended Harriet and taught her how to fly.

Matilde and Harriet – the first two women to received American pilot licenses

5. She became the first American woman to receive a pilot license.

Harriet Quimby made history! American, aviation, and women’s history. A Frenchwoman had been the first to receive a pilot license, making Harriet the second in the world and first in America.

The Areo Club of America granted her certificate in 1911!

6. She wrote seven screenplays.

Even as she tackled the brave new world of flight, Harriet continued her passion for writing. She drafted seven screenplays that were turned into silent films and even briefly starred in a Hollywood production.

7. She became the advertising face for a specialized soda.

Harriet wore a distinctive purple woman’s flying suit. Since flight was all the fashion with daring pilots learning and trying new tricks and skills to impress the impressionable crowds, a manufacturing company reached out to Harriet with a unique request. Would she become the spokeswoman for Vin Fiz purple grape soda?

She agreed, and her appearance on advertisement posters and publication ads, brought the idea of female pilots to the American public in a unique way.

8. She became the first woman to fly across the English Channel.

On April 16, 1912, Harriet made a historic flight. From Dover to Calais in fifty-nine minutes, she became the first woman to fly her plane across from Britain to France.

However, her flight wasn’t the only historic happening that week. The RMS Titanic sank, and news of that tragedy greatly overshadowed Harriet’s success in the reporting world.

The type of plane Ms. Quimby flew

9. She died in an aviation accident.

On July 1, 1912, Harriet took off in the Third Annual Boston Aviation Meeting, giving her passenger a view of the bay from the sky. She flew to Boston Lighthouse, then returned and circled the airfield. Suddenly, at 1000 feet, her Bleriot Monoplane pitched forward. Unable to control the aircraft, both Harriet and her passenger fell out of the plane and died as a result of the aviation accident.

Harriet was buried in New York.

10. She has been remembered and memorialized for her first flights.

Years after her tragic death, Harriet has been commemorated for her abilities and pioneering steps in the aviation world. In 1991, a special U.S. airmail postage stamp was issued in her honor.

More recently, Harriet Quimby was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame (2004) and the Long Island Air and Space Hall of Fame (2012).

Harriet Quimby lived a remarkable life. From a successful journalistic career to daring female pilot, Harriet pushed the limits and dared to believe in dreams of flight…and making those dreams a reality. 

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, editor, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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2 Responses to 10 Things To Know About Harriet Quimby

  1. Susan Sweet says:

    Where is Amelia Earhart in your ten things about ! I read a book about her in grade school and then had to read everything about her. The book in school was one of the wonderful children’s biographies that were published in the 50s. Instead of drawings they had Shilouttes of the people. Bound in orange covers. I have a few I have collected. Turns out they have been reprinted about the time you were in school. Biographies of young Americans except they have white black and drawings instead of the shiloutttes.
    I learned Amelia was fearless as a child. She continued being fearless as adult until she disappeared. I read her autobiography as an adult.

    • I went back and forth with a few aviators for the list. Eventually decided to add H. Quimby since she is “lesser known.” Maybe we’ll do a second round of this theme and add Amelia Earhart and Jackie Cochran.

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