Favourite female aviators

In between packing/unpacking/running up and down the stairs ten billion times this weekend, I surprisingly had time to read the Guardian’s excellent preview of the new Bernard Marck book, Women Aviators. I have to admit that prior to reading the piece I only knew about Amelia Earhart, but I don’t think I’d be alone in that. Am I? Who knows, anyway, the piece was tops, the book looks great and I’m gonna get it.

Without wanting to sound like Erin Wasson finding fashion inspiration in homeless people, all of the women featured are amazingly stylish. I know, I know, that when you’re a pilot (particularly a pilot in a primitive plane in the 20s) you wear what a pilot needs to wear, but humour me. I am inspired and moved by their genius, daring and pioneering ways too, of course…

There are 100 women profiled in the book, but here are the ones that the Guardian mentioned.

Amelia Earhart.
Everyone knows about her, but here she is. The first woman to fly the Atlantic and subject of the new film, Amelia. Seeing as she’s more famous than the rest, I’ll leave it at that for now.

Marie Marvingt (aka ‘The Fiancee of Danger’)
This woman is insane. As well as flying a plane in the nice fur you see above, she was qualified to drive a train and pilot a steamboat. She canoed from Paris to Germany, was the fifth best mountain climber on the planet, spoke five languages, could dance like a showgirl and wrote poetry. In 1911 she won the women’s flying contest, the Femina cup. She asked to pilot fighter planes in the First World War but was turned down. Instead she dressed up as a guy and served in the trenches ’til her false moustache fell off. The moustache bit didn’t happen.

Elise Deroche (aka ‘The Flying Baroness’)
The first licenced female pilot in the world. Good hat collection. Apologies, I’m basically copying directly from the Guardian feature and that’s just about all there is on her. When I get the book I might come back to this.

Harriet Quimby
What a babe. Harriet was a talented journalist and screenwriter as well as a skilled pilot. The first woman to earn a pilot’s licence by the Aero Club of America, first to fly at night and first to cross the Channel.

Hélène Dutrieu (aka ‘Woman Sparrowhawk’)
Belgian Hélène started out as a cycling champion and was the women’s world cycling champion in 1897 and 1898. It kinda blows my mind that there were women’s cycling championships then, for some reason. She then took up stunt biking with motorcycles where she became famous for the ‘jump of death’. When that got outlawed, she moved on to flying, winning the inaugural Femina Cup and causing minor scandal for admitting to not wearing a corset when flying.

Bessie Coleman (aka ‘Queen Bess’)
One of 13 children, Bessie trained as a manicurist before the fairly life-changing decision to get into flying, inspired by returning WWI pilots. Despite backing from influential businessmen, she wasn’t allowed to train as a pilot owing to being a) a woman and b) black. She moved to France where it was allowed and managed to become the first African-American woman to hold a pilot’s licence. She became most famous in the US as an epic stunt flier. I wonder how the ex-pro manicurist’s nails held up after all that loop the looping?

Amy Johnson
The first British woman to obtain an aeroplane mechanic’s licence and also the first to fly to Australia — after only 85 hours of flying practise…?! Next up she broke the light aircraft speed record for flying between London and Tokyo.

I really recommend you read the Guardian article, although I pretty much just copied and pasted that. What I suggest you also do is buy the book, obv.

Women Aviators, by Bernard Marck, £27.50

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