Jump to content

Harriet Quimby

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Harriet Quimby
Quimby c. 1911
Born(1875-05-11)May 11, 1875
Michigan, US
DiedJuly 1, 1912(1912-07-01) (aged 37)
Squantum, Massachusetts, US
Aviation career
First flightBlériot XI monoplane
Famous flightsEnglish Channel overfly (Dover, England to Calais, France)
Flight licenseAugust 1, 1911
Aero Club of America, US

Harriet Quimby (May 11, 1875 – July 1, 1912) was an American pioneering aviator, journalist, and film screenwriter. In 1911, she became the first woman in the United States to receive a pilot's license and in 1912 the first woman to fly across the English Channel.[1][2] Although Quimby died at the age of 37 in a flying accident, she strongly influenced the role of women in aviation.

Early life and early career

Photograph of Quimby in 1911 by Theodore C. Marceau

She was born on May 11, 1875. Because there is no official birth certificate, her place of birth is not known, and many communities in Michigan have claimed to be her birthplace, among them Coldwater[3][4] and Arcadia Township.[5]

Her father had purchased a farm in Arcadia township in 1874, and the family was recorded there in the 1880 United States census.[6] They moved to Arroyo Grande, California, about 1888.[7] After her family moved to San Francisco, California, in the early 1900s, Quimby initially tried her hand at stage acting, using the stage name "Hazel Quimby". She is known to have appeared in at least two plays: as Romeo in a production of Romeo and Juliet opposite Linda Arvidson's Juliet (before Arvidson married film director D.W. Griffith), and a minor role in a production of Sappho. Ultimately deciding that acting was not for her, Quimby decided to became a journalist.[8]

In 1902 Harriet Quimby began writing for the San Francisco Dramatic Review and also contributed to the Sunday editions of the San Francisco Chronicle' and San Francisco Call.

She moved to Manhattan, New York City, in 1903 to work as a theater critic for Leslie's Illustrated Weekly. She published more than 250 articles over a nine-year period.[9]



Quimby became interested in aviation in 1910 when she attended the International Aviation Meet at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.[9] There she met John Moisant, a well-known aviator and operator of a flight school, and his sister Matilde.[10][11] Quimby learned to fly at the Moisant Aviation School.[12] Alfred Moisant, John Moisant's brother, was her flight instructor at the Moisant Aviation School.[12]

On August 1, 1911, she took her pilot's test and became the first American woman to earn a pilot's license, Fédération Aéronautique Internationale certificate #37,[13] issued to her by the Aero Club of America.[9] Quimby received her pilots license after thirty-three flight lessons and two test flights.[12] Matilde Moisant soon followed and became the second.[14]

Quimby continued to write for Leslie's even when touring with airshows, and recounted her flying adventures in a series of articles as the publication's aviation editor. Ironically, one of the first articles published under her new title was "The Dangers of Flying and How to Avoid Them," an account of pilots who had died and a discussion of the need for proper safety precautions.[15] Despite her knowledge of the risks, and committed to her new passion of flying, she promoted the economic potential of commercial aviation and touted flying as an ideal sport for women.[3]

After earning her pilot's license, Quimby acted to capitalize on her new status. The press called her the "Dresden China Aviatrix" or "China Doll", because of her petite stature and fair skin. Pilots could earn as much as US$1,000 per performance, and prize money for a race could go as high as $10,000 or more. Quimby joined the Moisant International Aviators, an exhibition team, and made her professional debut in 1911, earning $1,500 in a night flight over Staten Island before a crowd of almost 20,000 spectators.[16]

As one of the country's few female pilots, she capitalized on her femininity by wearing a plum-colored satin blouse, necklace, and antique bracelet, with more practical trousers and high-laced boots. She drew crowds whenever she competed in cross-country meets and races. As part of the exhibition team, Quimby showcased her talents around the United States and traveled to Mexico City at the end of 1911 to participate in aviation activities held in honor of the inauguration of President Francisco I. Madero.[3]



In 1911 Quimby also wrote seven screenplays or scenarios that were developed as silent film shorts by Biograph Studios. All seven were directed by D. W. Griffith. Stars in her films included Florence La Badie, Wilfred Lucas, and Blanche Sweet. Quimby had a small acting role in one movie.[17]

Vin Fiz

Vin Fiz soda 1912 postcard

The Vin Fiz Company, a division of Armour Meat Packing Plant of Chicago, used Quimby to advertise the new grape soda, Vin Fiz, after the death of Calbraith Perry Rodgers in April 1912. She appeared in adverts in her distinctive purple aviator uniform.[18]

English Channel flight

Harriet Quimby in her Blériot XI monoplane

On April 16, 1912, Quimby took off from Dover, England, en route to Calais, France, and made the flight in 59 minutes, landing about 25 miles (40 km) from Calais on a beach in Équihen-Plage, Pas-de-Calais. She was the first woman to pilot an aircraft across the English Channel.[19] Her accomplishment received little media attention as it occurred the day after the sinking of the Titanic ocean liner.[citation needed] To complete her flight across the English Channel she purchased a Bleriot 50 monoplane.[20]


Matilde Moisant (left) and Harriet Quimby, the first two women in the United States to obtain pilot certificates (photo circa 1911–1912)

On July 1, 1912, Quimby flew in the Third Annual Boston Aviation Meet at Squantum, Massachusetts.[2] Although she had obtained her ACA certificate to participate in ACA events, the Boston meet was an unsanctioned contest. Quimby flew out to Boston Light in Boston Harbor at about 3,000 feet (910 m), then returned and circled the airfield.[21]

William A. P. Willard, the event organizer and father of aviator Charles F. Willard, was a passenger in her brand-new two-seat Bleriot monoplane. At an altitude of 1,000 feet (300 m), the aircraft unexpectedly pitched forward, for reasons unknown. Willard was ejected. The airplane flipped over and Quimby was also ejected; both fell to their deaths,[1][22] while the plane "glided down and lodged itself in the mud".[11]

Harriet Quimby died at age 37 and was buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York.[23] The following year her remains were moved to the Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.[24] A cenotaph to Quimby, the Harriet Quimby Compass Rose Fountain, was erected at Pierce Brothers/Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery in Burbank, California. Located close to the cemetery's Portal of the Folded Wings, a shrine containing the ashes of aviation pioneers, the Quimby fountain's plaque reads:

Harriet Quimby became the first licensed female pilot in America on August 1, 1911. On April 16, 1912, she was the first woman to fly a plane across the English Channel. She pointed the direction for future women pilots including her friend, Matilde Moisant, buried at the Portal of the Folded Wings. The number of licensed female pilots increased to 200 total by 1930 and between 700 to 800 by 1935.[25]




As actress

Title Year Role Director
Lines of White on a Sullen Sea 1909 Fishermaiden D.W. Griffith
The Late Harriet Quimby's Flight Across the English Channel 1912 Self Unknown

As writer

Title Year Director
Sunshine Through the Dark 1911 D.W. Griffith
The Blind Princess and the Poet 1911 D.W. Griffith
His Mother's Scarf 1911 D.W. Griffith
The Broken Cross 1911 D. W. Griffith
Fisher Folks 1911 D. W. Griffith



In 1991 the United States Postal Service issued a 50 cent airmail postage stamp featuring Harriet Quimby.[27][28] Written on these stamps was "Harriet Quimby: Pioneer Pilot."[12]

She is memorialized in two official Michigan historical markers. One is located near Coldwater.[29] The other was erected near the now abandoned family farmhouse in Arcadia Township where Quimby lived from 1875 to about 1888.[30]

In 2004 Quimby was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.[10]

In 2012 Quimby was inducted into the Long Island Air and Space Hall of Fame.[31]

The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome possesses a flyable Anzani-powered one-seater Blériot XI, which bears the Blériot factory's serial number 56, showing that it was manufactured in 1909. Since Quimby's plane that she flew in 1912 was a brand new two-seater, the idea that the former was the aircraft that she was flying at the time of her death seems to be an urban legend.[32]

Quimby Road at Reid–Hillview Airport in San Jose, California, is named in her honor.

Film and television portrayals


Quimby has been portrayed on screen on a few occasions.

  • Her life story was dramatized in the March 23, 1952, instalment of Hallmark Hall of Fame entitled "Harriet Quimby." Directed by William Corrigan, the early US TV production featured British actress Sarah Churchill as Quimby.
  • A fictionalized version of Quimby, played by Canadian actress Claudette Mink, appears in the 2000 telefilm Christy: Return to Cutter Gap, which has Quimby encountering the title character after crash-landing her biplane near Cutter Gap (in real life, Quimby only flew single-wing aircraft and until her fatal accident only suffered minor mishaps during her flying career).
  • A 28-minute short film from Sterling Scripts, Lady of the Air: The Story of Harriet Quimby, released to Youtube and elsewhere online in 2020, features actress Bri Brown delivering a dramatic monologue as Quimby, who describes both her life and the circumstances of her death. It was written by Sterling Brown.[33]

In 2015, American media, citing Allyn Mark, president of Industry Visions Pictures, reported that plans were under way for a biographical film entitled Aeroplane Angel that would dramatize Quimby's life. As of 2024, no production has as yet eventuated.[34]

Selected coverage in The New York Times

  • The New York Times, May 11, 1911, page 6, "Woman in trousers daring aviator; Long Island folk discover that Miss Harriet Quimby is making flights at Garden City"
  • The New York Times, August 2, 1911, page 7, "Miss Quimby wins air pilot license"
  • The New York Times, September 5, 1911, page 5, "Girl flies by night at Richmond fair; Harriet Quimby darts about in the moonshine above an admiring crowd"
  • The New York Times, September 18, 1911, page 7, "Women aviators to race; the Misses Moisant, Quimby, Scott, and Dutrieu at Nassau meet"
  • The New York Times, September 28, 1911, page 2, "Miss Quimby's flight"
  • The New York Times, April 17, 1912, page 15, "Quimby flies English Channel"
  • The New York Times, June 21, 1912, page 14, "Woman to fly with mail; Miss Quimby Plans Air Trip from Boston to New York"
  • The New York Times, July 2, 1912, page 1, "Miss Quimby dies in airship fall"
  • The New York Times, July 3, 1912, page 7, "Quimby tragedy unexplained"
  • The New York Times, July 4, 1912, page 7, "Services for Harriet Quimby to-night"
  • The New York Times, July 5, 1912, page 13, "Eulogizes Harriet Quimby"
  • The New York Times, July 7, 1912, magazine, "When aviation becomes not only dangerous but foolhardy"

Further reading

  • "An American Girl's Daring Exploit" by Harriet Quimby
  • "Miss Harriet Quimby – America's First and Most Successful Aviatrix"
  • Harriet Quimby's October 4, 1906 Article "A Woman's Exciting Ride in a Racing Motor-car"
  • DiMeo, Nate (April 20, 2014). "Remembering Harriet Quimby, A Daring Female Pilot". npr.org. Retrieved April 27, 2014.
  • "Harriet Quimby". International Women's Air & Space Museum. August 19, 2017. Archived from the original on August 19, 2017.

See also



  1. ^ a b "Harriet Quimby". National Air and Space Museum.
  2. ^ a b "Miss Quimby Dies In Airship Fall. Noted Woman Aviator and W.A.P. Willard, Passenger, Are Thrown 1,000 Feet". The New York Times. July 2, 1912.
  3. ^ a b c "Harriet Quimby" (PDF).
  4. ^ "Harriet Quimby". U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission.
  5. ^ Maschke, Ruby (July 4, 1996). "Thumb Prints: A trip to Arcadia, Part II". The Harbor Beach Times. p. 5. Retrieved June 30, 2023.
  6. ^ "United States Census, 1880," database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MWST-ZR3 : January 14, 2022), Hattie in household of William, Arcadia, Manistee, Michigan, United States; citing enumeration district, sheet, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), FHL microfilm.
  7. ^ Per State of Michigan historical marker
  8. ^ Dahler, Don (2022). Fearless Harriet Quimby: A Life Without Limit. New York: Princeton Architectural Press. p. 37-40. ISBN 9781648960352.
  9. ^ a b c Tallman, Jill W. (August 2, 2011). "Thanks, Harriet" (Harriet Quimby profile). AOPA Pilot. Archived from the original on December 21, 2014. Retrieved December 21, 2014.
  10. ^ a b "Harriet Quimby profile". The National Aviation Hall of Fame. Retrieved October 3, 2016.
  11. ^ a b "Harriet Quimby profile". centennialofflight.net. Retrieved May 10, 2015.
  12. ^ a b c d "Harriet Quimby". www.cradleofaviation.org. Retrieved March 14, 2024.
  13. ^ "Celebrating pilot Harriet Quimby, America's 1st female pilot". Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. May 17, 2021.
  14. ^ "An American Lady Aviator". Flight. August 26, 1911. Retrieved May 16, 2012.
  15. ^ Quimby, Harriet (August 31, 1911). "The Dangers of Flying and How to Avoid Them". Leslie's Weekly. New York. Retrieved June 17, 2024.
  16. ^ "Girl Flies by Night at Richmond Fair: Harriet Quimby Darts About in the Moonshine Above an Admiring Crowd. Tempted To Cross Harbor But Flits Back In Seven Minutes to an Anxious Mother and a $1,500 Check – Lee Hammond Up, Too". The New York Times. September 5, 1911. p. 5. ProQuest 97239137.
  17. ^ Internet Movie Database, Harriet Quimby IMDb; accessed April 16, 2009.
  18. ^ Holden, Henry M. (October 2007). "Vin Fiz reborn". Airport journal. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  19. ^ "Miss Quimby Flies The Channel"Flight April 20, 1912
  20. ^ "Harriet Quimby". airandspace.si.edu. Retrieved March 14, 2024.
  21. ^ "Harriet Quimby Crash, 1912". CelebrateBoston.com. Retrieved October 3, 2016.
  22. ^ Ironically, less than a month before her death, Quimby had written about the development of a harness designed to prevent pilots from falling out of their aircraft (Harriet Quimby, "New Things in the Aviation World," Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, June 6, 1912)
  23. ^ "Harriet Quimby". www.centennialofflight.net. Retrieved March 14, 2024.
  24. ^ "Aeronautics – Harriet Quimby". Aeronautics Learning Laboratory for Science Technology and Research. Florida International University. December 20, 2004. Archived from the original on June 30, 2017. Retrieved April 13, 2018.
  25. ^ Gant, Kelli (March 14, 2024). "Our History 99s in Aviation History Women in Involved Aviation". The Ninety-Nines, Inc. Retrieved March 14, 2024.
  26. ^ "Harriet Quimby". IMDb. Retrieved March 31, 2019.
  27. ^ Sama, Dominic (April 28, 1991). "Stamp Honors First Woman Licensed Pilot". Chicago Tribune. Knight-Ridder Newspapers. Retrieved October 3, 2016.
  28. ^ "50c Harriet Quimby single". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved October 25, 2021.
  29. ^ "Harriet Quimby". The Historical Marker database. Archived from the original on July 3, 2019. Retrieved October 3, 2016.
  30. ^ "Harriet Quimby Childhood Home". The Historical Marker database. Archived from the original on July 3, 2019. Retrieved October 3, 2016.
  31. ^ Melanson, Alana (May 16, 2012). "Fitchburg pays tribute to first woman to fly across English Channel". Fitchburg, Massachusetts: Sentinel & Enterprise. Retrieved May 16, 2012.
  32. ^ Pat Trenner (April 15, 2013). "Did Harriet Quimby's Blériot End Up in New York?". airspacemag. Retrieved March 2, 2016.
  33. ^ "Lady of the Air: The Story of Harriet Quimby". YouTube. October 8, 2020. Retrieved June 13, 2024.
  34. ^ "Hollywood Women Producers, Directors and Casting Agents Would Be Top Box Office Winners by Producing "True" Adventure Stories for Women: Industry Visions Pictures Reports". Marketwired. March 30, 2015. Retrieved June 13, 2024.