Leſt : Harriet Quimby became America’s first licensed female pilot in 1911 at NY. She enjoyed owning and driving automobiles and encouraged women to learn how to do their own maintenance. When she drove to the aerodrome near Dover to make the first solo crossing of the English Channel by a woman in 1912, she borrowed her host’s car to get there. She once commented that she preferred flying because there were no policemen to give her a speeding ticket. Quimby flew only Bleriot-type monoplanes. Right: Exhibition flier Blanche Stuart Scott took lessons from Glenn Curtiss in 1910 and soloed in her “pusher” biplane but was not licensed. She is shown here wearing pants stuff ed with insulation to keep her warm in the cold upper air.

feet. Advertisements blared, “Watch this daring woman duplicate all the fl ying tricks of [French aviator] Paulhan.” In 1913, her act was described as “nerve-tingling, spine- chilling, thrill-producing” and accordingly, “risky.” One source claims she broke 41 bones in various crashes, while earning $5,000 [2018 = $124,500] per week to fl y. Scott was at the controls of her Curtiss pusher over the airfi eld when she watched Quimby fall to her death. The deaths of Clark, Quimby and several male fl iers aff ected her view of exhibition fl ying. She quit fl ying in 1916 because she felt that spectators came in hopes of watching her crash. She enjoyed several honors for her early fl ying and died at age 86.

The fourth licensed American female aviator was

Katherine Stinson [FAI No. 148]. She trained in Chicago during 1912 and at the time was the only licensed aviatrix to fl y a Wright-type aircraft. One historian notes that, “to keep up with the times, she switched to a more acrobatic tractor machine.” She became a sensation as a stunt fl ier, independent of organized fl ying teams, appearing in the U.S., Canada, China and Japan. She pushed her aircraft to make steep dives, circular loops and other crowd-pleasing stunts. She often broke existing distance records and made fund-raising fl ights for charitable causes. Youthful looking with ropes of long curls, she became known as the “Flying Schoolgirl” and gave her stunts names such as the “Dippy Twist.” She often fl ew at night, using fl ares to trace her movements. She and her siblings operated a fl ying school in Texas and trained military pilots prior to WWI. Stinson’s girlish charm belied her nerves of steel. She quit fl ying to pursue careers in architecture and engineering and died at age 86.

32 | mar 2018

Ruth Law reportedly took her fi rst fl ying lesson from the school run by Harry Atwood in Massachusetts on the same day she attended the air meet that claimed Quimby’s life. Undaunted, she earned her license and bought a Wright aircraft. One historian noted that Law “decided she needed a superior aircraft, especially for acrobatics, and invested in a Curtiss headless pusher.” She was soon fl ying her biplane in dizzying circles over frozen Keuka Lake in New York. She went on to make exhibition fl ights, which included loops, in the U.S., China, Japan and the Philippines. She formed the Ruth Law Flying Circus with help from her husband, Charles Oliver. Law made record- breaking long distance fl ights and contributed as an aviator for the American Red Cross and other non-military organizations during WWI. She retired from fl ying in 1922 and lived to be 83. Before American women gained the right to vote in 1920 they were already fl ying the same aircraft as men. Today’s female airshow aerobatic performers (such as Patty Wagstaff and Julie E. Clark) are direct descendants of the Pioneer Exhibition Era. However, most women pilots simply enjoy punching holes in the clouds — where, as Quimby once exulted, there were no policemen to give her a speeding ticket.

Giacinta Bradley Koontz is an aviation historian, magazine columnist and author who has received the DAR History Medal and honorable mention from the New York Book Festival. She has appeared on the History Channel and in PBS documentaries.

For more information, visit

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68