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Ann Kathleen Otto


Memorable Women

March is "Women’s History Month" when the United States Library of Congress and six other national entities pay tribute to women who have made their mark on society. In 1981Congress designated a week in March as “Women’s History Week." It took the National Women’s History Project to convince Congress to designate the entire month. So today I'd like to reflect on recent women I've grown to love. While writing Yours in a Hurry, the women in the story became increasingly more interesting. My great aunt Anna was gutsy to move from a small village to Los Angeles in the 1910's, but I know little about her life there. Here are three of the first American women aviators. Sadly, they are mostly forgotten.

Harriet Quimby,  (1875-1912)                            

Harriet was famous long before she started working for Leslie's Illustrated Weeklya journalist in San Francisco with Jack London, an actress and screenwriter with D.W. Griffith, drama critic, photographer for Around the World with a Camera (1910), and much more.  She was also beautifully photogenic—dark hair, green eyes, model perfect and sophisticated.  She is most remembered as the first American woman to achieve a aviation pilot's license.

She became interested in flying while writing about it. She was influenced by other aviators, especially John and Matilde Moisant. She earned her pilot's license on August 1, 1911. After an aviation exhibition in Mexico, her goal was to be the first woman to fly across the English Channel. She reached that goal when she took to the sky from England on April 16, 1912. She was probably disappointed in the tepid homecoming she received for her achievement. Not only was the public's attention focused on the Titanic disaster of April 14, but New York was in the midst of suffragist demonstrations. The independent, confident Harriet wasn't popular with those on either side of the issue. She wasn't sympathetic to the crowd mentality of the suffragists, and other New Yorkers evidently weren't in the mood to celebrate an assertive woman. Harriet continued flying and writing significant articles about aviation, social causes and issues of interest to women until her untimely death.

Matilde Moisant (1878-1964)

The Moisant Family was discussed in an earlier blog. After John became the first American aviator to cross the English Channel, his sister Matilde became the second American woman to achieve a pilot's license. Matilde was the first woman to fly in Mexico while the Moisant troop was there performing for President Madero's inauguration events. It was during that time that she and her troop became stranded for several months by revolutionists under Emiliano Zapata. Matilde was given credit for her handling of the difficult situation.

After retiring from flying, she remained active in the family business, developing and marketing aeroplanes and setting up aviation training schools. You can read more about this interesting family in Doris L. Rich's The Magnificent Moisants.



Blanche Stuart Scott (1885-1970)

The spirited Blanche Stuart Scott was the first American woman to fly in an aeroplane. She wasn't the first to get a pilot's license because, as she put it, all of her time performing in exhibitions should be enough to prove her ability to fly.

Blanche was born in Rochester, New York. She was most likely the first female in automobile sales. On May 16, 1910, thousands lined up to watch the freckle-faced red-head leave New York City in a white and silver Lady Overland automobile. The cross country trip was sponsored by Willys-Overland of Cleveland. Each side of the auto read, 'The car, the girl, and the wide, wide, world— New York to San Francisco'. Few roadmaps and only 218 miles of paved rural roads existed in the country.

Forty-two days later, the Lady Overland arrived in San Francisco and Blanche was an immediate celebrity. A Glenn Curtiss company representative soon recruited her to take up flying. After her air exhibition years, Blanche became a test pilot for Glenn Martin and then gave up flying at the start of World War I. She worked as a script writer, film producer, radio broadcaster, and aviation historian for museums. Before her death at age 84 she was the first woman to fly in a jet in 1948 as a passenger of Chuck Yeager.  

Please mention these women to any young women you know who are interested in the arts or science. Harriet Quimby, a Renaissance woman with many talents, is one whose story we should especially remember.

Source: Library of Congress Women's History Month website

Photographs: Library of Congress

Next time:  What's in a Name?: A Writer's Dilemma in Naming Characters

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