Harriet Quimby
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"The men flyers have given out the impression that aeroplaning is very perilous work, something that an ordinary mortal should not dream of attempting. But when I saw how easily the man flyers manipulated their machines I said I could fly."
— Harriet Quimby

"Flying seems easier than voting."
—Harriet Quimby

Basic Information

Some women are homebodies, content to live lives of meek submission. Then there's the other sort; the ones who seek adventure, who refuse any limits lower than the sky, and who wind up on bottles of grape soda.

Harriet Quimby claimed to have been born to a wealthy family in Arroyo Grande, California. She was actually born was born in, 1875 on a small farm in Michigan; but her family did move to California in the late 1880s.

We don't know if she ever was an actress, as she claimed, and the nude picture of her which reportedly hung in San Francisco's elite Bohemian Club was lost in the Great San Francisco Quake; but she began writing for newspapers around 1900. She moved to New York City in 1903 and began writing for Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, a popular woman's journal, as a theater critic. A prolific writer, she also moonlighted writing screenplays for D.W. Griffith, the pioneer moviemaker who at that time had his studio in New York.

In 1910 she attended an air show in Belmont Park to write a story aviation and became interested in flying. She became friends with Matilde Moisant, a pioneering aviatrix whose brothers ran a flying school and began taking flying lessons.

August 1, 1911 she took a pilot's test and became the first American woman, and the second woman ever, to recieve an aviator's license, #37 from the Aero Club of America. She traveled around the country flying in exhibition shows, wearing her trademark flying suit, a plum-colored hooded outfit of wool-lined satin with high boots. She designed the outfit ostensibly to hide her gender while she was taking her flying lessons, because women at that time were barred from flying. That's the story, anyway. You tell me if she looks like a girl.

The striking color of her suit might have been what landed her a job as spokesmodel for Vin-Fiz, a grape-flavored soda. She appeared on numerous advertising posters in that era.

On April 16, 1912, she became the first woman to fly across the English Channel, flying from Dover to a beach near Calais in 59 minutes. Her feat received little attention from the press, however, because it was overshadowed by the sinking of the RMS Titanic, which had occured on April 15.

A few months later, she flew to Boston to participate in an aviation meet. On July 1 she flew from the airfield at Squantum, Massachusets out to the Boston Harbor lighthouse and back in her new two-seat Bleriot monoplane, with the event's organizer riding as passenger. While circling the airfield, the plane unexpectedly lurched pitching both pilot and passengers out of the plane. Both fell to their deaths.

Although her carreer as a pilot lasted less than a year, Quimby became an inspirational figure for generations of aviatrixes, including Amelia Earhart

See Also


Game and Story Use

  • In a historical or time travel campaign set in the early 1900's Harriet Quimby would be an interesting NPC.
  • She could also be a good model for an adventurous female character of that era.
  • Was there a connection between her English Channel flight and the sinking of the Titanic?
  • What's in Vin-Fiz, anyway? It sound sinister.
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