When it comes to celebrating women in flight, Harriet Quimby is a well known name. She is recognized as the first American woman to earn a pilot’s license and complete a solo flight across the English channel.
She also became the first American woman to fly an airplane at night and the first woman to fly over Mexico city. Her solo flight across the English Channel, however, was deemed as her most novel aerial accomplishment. She performed this flight on April 15, 1912, knowing that the slightest deviation from her mapped course could send her out into the open ocean. While it may not be the largest distance, the risks for this particular route were extremely high. This is why it was so impressive.
Before sporting her trademark plum satin flight suit, and breaking records for women in America, Quimby worked as a reporter, journalist, photographer and writer. In 1902, she began writing for the San Francisco Dramatic Review and contributed to the San Francisco Chronicle.
In 1903, Quimby moved to New York where she obtained her first steady writing job by joining the staff of Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly. Here, she worked as a drama critic and editor of the women’s page. Later on in her career, she also began to write feature pieces for the magazine. She held onto this job until the year of 1912. It was only two years prior to her resignation that she fell in love with aviation when she attended an international aviation meet in New York.
Following this inspiration, Quimby obtained her flying license in less than a year, on August 1, 1911. It was not long thereafter that she began to participate in air shows, setting new aviation standards for generations of women—and pilots—to come.
Quimby helped reframe the intersections of gender and piloting. Though she passed away at the young age of thirty-seven, Quimby continuously challenged many societal norms and conventions. One key example is that she never married, and opted to dedicate her time to her life’s work and passion.
This was highly uncommon, as many women were expected to marry in their early twenties. But Quimby rejected this idea. Her purple flight suit was another way that she defied societal norms. During this time, women’s fashion emphasized modesty and rarely gave women the opportunity to show their full silhouette. This is why Quimby’s colourful and fitted flight suit became so iconic for American women.
Whether pursuing her career as a writer and journalist, delving into the world of aviation, or throughout her daily life, Quimby pushed against women’s societal norms. She prioritized and advocated for her ambition and abilities, and the ripples of this can still be felt today.
By: Briahna McTigue