There was a young woman who wanted to fly.
But the people said, “Kiss that wish good-bye!
The sky’s too big and the sky’s too high,
And you never will fly,
so you’d better not try.”
But this woman laughed, and she just said,
Nobody owns the sky!”*
Most people when asked to name early female aviators can name only one name, Amelia Earhart. She was a daring pilot, but the mystery surrounding her disappearance overshadowed and eventually erased any memory of her equally accomplished peers — early aviatrices who defied gravity (and male disapproval) in flimsy airplanes, including…
- Aida de Acosta, the girl from New Jersey about whom Alberto Santos-Dumont (a rival of the Wright Brothers) proclaimed “Mademoiselle, vous êtes la première aero-chauffeuse du monde!” (“Miss, you are the first woman aero-driver in the world!”)
- Katharine Wright, the “Third Wright Brother” who joined her brothers in France to show off their plane to the European Aristocracy and about whom her brothers would say, “When the world thinks of us in connection with aviation, it must remember our sister.”
- Elise Raymonde Deroche, a plumber’s daughter from Paris who became the first female licensed pilot in the world and who became known as the “Baroness de LaRoche” while competing in an airshow in Russia hosted by Tsar Nicholas II.
- Helene Dutrieu, champion cyclist and stunt rider who became a record-setting aviatrix — but shocked the press when they learned she was flying without a corset!
- Marie Marvingt, the only person (male or female) ever presented with a “Gold Medal in All Sports” by the French Academy of Sports who later invented the air ambulance service and was called by the American press, “the most extraordinary woman since Joan of Arc.”
- Harriet Quimby, the self-made journalist who was the first woman to solo across the English channel (news of which was unfortunately overshadowed by the Titanic disaster.)
BARNSTORMERS & RECORD-SETTERS:
- Blanche Scott Stuart, the plucky cross-country driver turned pilot, who outsmarted airplane designer Glenn Curtiss by “accidentally” dislodging a piece of wood he’d wedged in the throttle — thus becoming the first American woman to pilot an airplane.
- Ruth Law, pioneering stunt pilot who slept overnight in a tent on top of a Chicago hotel to acclimate herself to the freezing temperatures before setting out to break the U.S. long-distance flight record.
- Katherine Stinson, the daring “Flying Schoolgirl” stunt pilot who regularly bested her male peers and who flew before the emperor and 50,000 people in her debut performance in Japan, and her sister Marjorie, known as “the Flying Schoolmarm” who trained much of the Canadian Royal Air Force for World War I.
- Bessie Coleman, daughter of sharecroppers, who became the first African-American of either gender to get a pilot’s license and whose dream of an American flying school for African Americans enabled the training of the Tuskegee flyers.
- Elinor Smith, who at age nineteen was named the “Best Female Pilot” by her peers (including Amelia Earhart) and who successfully flew under all four East River bridges in New York City (the only pilot ever to do so!)
Inexplicably, these women’s astonishing accomplishments have been largely forgotten. Carol Simon Levin brings their colorful stories to life.
*From Nobody Owns the Sky: The Story of Brave Bessie Coleman by Reeve Lindbergh (Candlewick, 1996 — used with permission.)
During World War II, more than one thousand women volunteers completed the WASP military pilot training program. They endured terrible Texas weather, snakes, spiders and scorpions, as well as the hostility of some male instructors. Graduating WASPs piloted every kind of military aircraft, tested new and overhauled airplanes (some with defective parts or dangerous reputations), delivered more than 12,000 planes, and flew over 60,000,000 miles (often towing targets that soldiers shot at with live ammunition!) Thirty-eight of them died serving their country. Then they were told that men needed their jobs and they were dismissed and forgotten.
Carol Simon Levin tells the story of the amazing WASPs through the eyes of Ann Baumgartner Carl, the Jersey girl who trained as a WASP, became the only American woman to test-fly experimental planes during the war, and the first woman in the world to fly a jet airplane!
If your venue would be interested in having “Elinor Smith Sullivan” come for a visit to share the astonishing stories of forgotten female aviation “Pioneers” or “Barnstormers”, or “Ann Baumgartner Carl” tell the story of the WASPs of World War II, please contact Carol Simon Levin, cslevin59 @ gmail (dot) com, 908 781-6041. A preview video is available on request.
“Fascinating to learn of women who were so successful and we never heard of them!” –W.M.
“I was somewhat skeptical when Lilyan invited me to your program. As a pilot for many years I thought that I knew I everything about women pilots. What a surprise. Your program taught me so very much and your presentation was outstanding. I am sending your information to as many women as I can. I know that anyone who attends your program will be as excited as I am.” A.L.
“One of the best programs I’ve ever been to.” — Marsha Kaplan, Elizabeth Public Library