Considered ³the most celebrated of Americaıs pioneer women fliers,² Harriet Quimby entranced the public worldwide with her skill as a pilot and strength as a woman. Having always longed to be a journalist, Harrietıs dreams quickly changed when she visited the Belmont Park aviation meet in October 1910. As she watched flier John Moisant race around the Statue of Liberty, Harriet decided to embark upon a new dream of flying.
³The airplane should open a fruitful occupation for women. I see no reason they cannot realize handsome incomes by carrying passengers between adjacent towns, from parcel delivery, taking photographs or conducting schools of flying,² Harriet announced her visionary thinking. Less than five million American women worked outside the home in 1911, and Harriet Quimby saw a vision in aviation for all women. She encouraged women to push their personal potential and set the example by driving an automobile, becoming a photographer, screenwriter and pilot. Her ultimate display of courage was to become the first woman in the United States and the second woman in the world to earn a pilotıs license. Her instruction from the Moisant Aviation School covered 33 lessons with a little over four and a half hours in the air. In her professional debut with the Moisant International Aviators, Harrietıs trademark became her plum colored wool-backed satin flying suit with a hood and high-laced boots.
Nicknamed the ³Dresden China Aviatrix² by the press, Harriet became one of the most well-known women aviators in the world. Not long after Harriet received her license she set her first record. On September 4, 1911, in front of a crowd of 15 000 at the Richmond County Fair, she became the first woman to make a night flight. She shared the experiences of her flying with readers nationwide by writing numerous articles for ³Leslieıs Weekly², ³Good Housekeeping² and other magazines.
Harrietıs next ³first² came on a cold, foggy April morning in 1912 when she decided to cross the English Channel. Having never flown the 50-horsepower Bleriot monoplane, which she had borrowed from Louis Bleriot, nor ever used a compass, Harriet was given no opportunity for a preliminary test run due to the winds and rain. This attempt was advised against by all of Harrietıs friends -- one male friend even offered to dress in her purple flying suit and make the trip for her! Harrietıs determination guided her through thick walls of fog onto the sandy beaches of Hardelot, 25 miles south of Calais. Harriet Quimby was the first woman and the third pilot to make the 22 mile crossing across the English Channel.
Three months later, at the Harvard-Boston Air Meet, the Dresden China Aviatrix made her last flight. With the manager as a passenger, Harriet tried to break the over-water speed record of 58 miles per hour. As a horrified crowd watched, the two bodies fell from the plane when the plane turned over sharply at an altitude of 5,000 feet. The bodies tumbled through the air and plunged into the harbor waters, dying upon impact. Although at that time, many took her death as an example of why women should not fly airplanes, time has vindicated Harriet Quimby. Over 80 years later, there is no doubt that if she could see the thousands of women in command of airliners, military combat airplanes, space vehicles and executive aviation positions, her comment would simply be, ³See, I told you so!²