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Ann Kathleen Otto


When Miss Katherine Stinson Flew

While reading materials for an earlier blog on Frank Terrill I noticed female pioneer aviator who came after Harriet Quimby, Katherine Stinson.

The Flying Schoolgirl

Katherine was born in a small town in rural Alabama in 1891. When she became the fourth woman in the United States to obtain her pilot’s license, the media couldn’t believe that the small, eighty-five pound, twenty-one-year-old with the long curls hanging over her shoulders wasn’t a teenager.

By the time Terrill met her, she was in San Antonio and already famous for her daring flight maneuvers. Three women—her, her mother and sister—developed the Stinson Aviation School where they trained hundreds of students, including many Royal Canadian Airforce members. They eventually designed aeroplanes, some of which still fly. The school closed in 1917.

One of the first to fly at night with lights ablaze, Katherine was a gifted performer, and traveled the world. But when she tried to persuade General John Pershing to let her join the military flyers, first at the Mexican border and later at the front in World War I, he refused.

New Opportunities

The country did use her services—as a U.S. air mail pilot. But as the country entered the war, Katherine wanted more involvement. She was given clearance to fly her personal aeroplane continuously around the country to fund raise for the Red Cross, breaking distance records and raising two-million dollars for the cause. However, she wanted at the war front, and become a Red Cross ambulance driver in France.

Unfortunately, she contracted influenza, which then turned into tuberculosis in 1920. Her flying days were over and she spent nearly ten years recuperating.  In 1928, she married a former airman she had met in France, Miguel Ortero from New Mexico. She became an architect, and built many Santa Fe homes which still stand today. Katherine died in 1977 at the age of 86.

You can see Katherine’s story and early flying films on the excellent COLORES New Mexico PBS program Katherine Stinson: Her Story at                                                                          


Information on Frank Terrill and Katherine Stinson was found by Brian Burch  in newspaper clippings courtesy of Newsbank Database accessed through Akron-Summit County Public Library; other facts from the PBS program noted above.


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