On April 15, 1912, the world opened newspapers to one of the greatest human tragedies when over 1,500 'souls' perished aboard the invincible Titanic. Three women awoke in France that day, expecting one of them to be an international front page sensation.
Can you imagine being Harriet Quimby, first woman to fly across the English Channel, only to have your story in only a few lines in the international press? Although she was disappointed, I'm certain that as a famous journalist herself, she understood.
A Woman of Many Vocations
Addison and Anna meet Harriet in Yours in a Hurry through Hiram Cowell, Anna's mentor and a friend of Harriet's parents. Harriet was famous long before she started working for Leslie's Illustrated Weekly--a 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 pilot's license.
'I Have No Fear'
She became interested in flying by writing about it and being influenced by other aviators, especially John and Matilde Moisant. After an aviation exhibition in Mexico, her goal was to be the first woman to fly across the English Channel. She engaged aviator Louis Bleroit to assist and in spring, 1912, left with friends, Carrie Vanderbilt and Linda Arvidson, D.W. Griffith's spouse.
Her April 16 flight was successful, but the Titanic sunk shortly before her flight. The hoped for hero's welcome in New York was further delayed by a large, unpopular suffragist parade taking place in the city. The independent, confident Harriet was not popular with either side of the issue. She wasn't sympathetic to the crowd mentality of the suffragists, and New York was not in the mood to welcome an assertive woman. But, Harriet continued flying and writing winning articles about aviation, social causes and issues of interest to women until she died.
While researching women flyers of the period, I was fortunate to find a Harriet Quimby display at the International Women's Air and Space Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, including a replica of Harriet's signature purple flying costume.
The best source of information on Harriet I found was The Harriet Quimby Scrapbook, The Life of America’s First Birdwoman, by Giacinta Bradley Koontz (2002) 2012 edition, which can be purchased at Running Iron Publications www.lulu.com.
Another excellent source, including many of Harriet's Leslie's articles is Harriet Quimby: America's First Lady of the Air (1993), by retired U. S. Army Colonel, Ed. Y. Hall.
Next Time: A founder of Hollywood was another talented woman.