Harriet Quimby: America’s First Lady of the Air

Harriet Quimby: America’s First Lady of the Air

Harriet Quimby: America’s First Lady of the Air by: Ed. Y. Hall

Book Reviews

Publications written by Ed. Y. Hall concerning Harriet Quimby are:

Harriet Quimby: America’s First Lady of the Air, Hardcover, $16.95
Harriet Quimby: America’s First Lady of the Air, Activity book for children, $4.95
Harriet Quimby: America’s First Lady of the Air, For intermediate readers, $10.95
Harriet Quimby Poster, 18″x21,” $5.95

Harriet Quimby America's First Lady of the Air

“Ed Y. Hall writes of first women pilot”

Amelia Earhart had long been considered the pioneer in women’s aviation. However, the true First Lady of flight was Harriet Quimby, according to Ed. Y. Hall, aviation historian.  “Harriet Quimby was flying 25 years before Amelia Earhart. She carried airmail as early as 1912,” says Hall.  In his book titled “Harriet Quimby: America’s First Lady of the Air.” Hall tells the fascinating story of the hauntingly beautiful aviator of the early 1900s. “I became interested in Quimby’s flying career, while I was doing research on another project about the Wright Brothers,” Hall says. The search for information about Quimby’s life has taken hall to several parts of the United States, England and France.

Hall a member of Wofford College’s administrative staff, published an accountant of his tour of duty as a military adviser in Vietnam, titled “Valley of the Shadow,” and wrote with Dr. Sam Fleming “Flying With he Hell’s Angels,” the story of Fleming’s military aviation career.
Harriet Quimby’s career started not as an aviator, but as a journalist, writing for “Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly,” a popular magazine of that time. She became interested in flying while covering pioneering air shows for the magazine, and became the first women in America to receive her pilot’s license. However, the right to that title did not come easy. The Aero Club of America felt flying was too difficult and dangerous for a woman, and only after a great struggle was she able to convince them to allow her to take the test. On her flight test she set a national spot landing record.

According to Hall, Quimby’s greatest accomplishment in early aviation never received its just place in history. On April 16, 1912, Quimby left Dover, England, in a French- made plane in an attempt to  fly the English Channel. Thick fog covered the beaches around Dover that morning, and ignoring the advice of her assistants, she took off at the scheduled time. Just over an hour after her departure from Dover. Quimby landed along the beach in Hardelot, France. “She actually could have arrived sooner.” Hall says, “but she became lost and had to fly up and down the beach in France, trying to determine where she was.”

Given the English Channel weather and the dead- reckoning nature of navigation in the early days of aviation. Quimby’s flight was a dangerous and courageous act that should have received headlines in papers around the world. However, just about 24 hours before her historical flight, 1,500 people perished when the Titanic sank about 500 miles southwest of Newfoundland. For many days, newspaper headlines around the world carried the news of the tragic event. Quimby’s flying feat was carried on the back page of The New York Times.

In doing research for the book, Hall discovered many old photographs of Quimby, dating back to her days both as a journalist and aviator. He could not help but notice how much one of the photographs resembled present day actress Brook Shields. Soon after his manuscript was finished in 1988, Hall wrote to Shields through the alumni office at Princeton University, the school from which she had graduated.  He explained to Shields about the photograph and asked whether she would be interested in playing the role of Quimby in a film. Several months later Shields’ office requested an option on the book.

After three years of negotiations and numerous telephone conversations with Shields and her mother, Terri, who also serves as her agent, the world will know the Harriet Quimby story. Options have been acquired, and Shields will play the role of the historic flyer in a major motion picture. Hall, himself a pilot, will serve as Shields “stand in” during the flying scenes in the movie.

The official release date of the book is Jan. 30. Hall and possibly Shields will appear at B. Dalton Booksellers at Westgate Mall that day for a book signing.

Several months after Quimby’s historical flight over the English Channel, she was killed in a bizarre accident at an air show in Boston. She and a passenger fell from her plane, as they flew 1,000 feet over the watching crowd. Says Hall of her death: “Harriet Quimby’s death was a real tragedy for women in aviation. She was in the process of proving that women could do anything in the field that men could do. It took Amelia Earhart in the 1930s to erase the lingering doubts planted that day in Boston.”

Great as their accomplishments were, Amelia Earhart and the women of The 99s owe a debt of gratitude to a lesser-known sister for blazing their trail. Harriet Quimby began flying 16 years before Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic and 26 years before Earhart was lost in the Pacific. Quimby was a woman far ahead of her time, with a foot in the past and her eyes on the future. Her father fought for the Union in the Civil War,
she became a “modern” career woman, working as a reporter for the magazine Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly. In 1911, Quimby was the first American woman to earn a pilot’s license. In 1912, she flew her 50-horsepower Bleriot monoplane across the English Channel-the first woman to do so. She continued flying until her accidental death at age 37 at the Third Annual Boston Air Meet in 1912.  You’ll enjoy the story of this remarkable woman of aviation’s earliest days. (Brooke Shields certainly likes the story-she now holds the movie rights and would like to star in the film.)

A quarter century before Amelia Earhart’s plane disappeared in the
Pacific, a talented magazine writer, adventurer laid claim as the true First Lady of flight.  Harriet Quimby wrote more than 275 articles for LESLIE’S ILLUSTRATED WEEKLY between 1903 and her death in a spectacular airplane accident in 1912. Her literary quests began with an article on “Curious Chinese Customs” and took her through the streets of New York City, to Europe, North Africa and the West Indies.

Her forte was the first-person story of a unique phenomenon, interview and observation profiles on interesting individuals, and reviews of New York stage plays. In the fall of 1906, she wrote about her 100 mph adventure in “A Woman’s Exciting Ride in a Racing Motor-car” for Leslie’s and became hooked on speed and danger.

By 1909 she had devoured virtually every article about aviation carried in Leslie’s and wrote a academic article about a Japanese inventor’s aerodynamic study of the American buzzard. After attending the Los Angeles International Aviation Meet and the Belmont Park Aviation Meet in 1910, she was ready to team to fly.

Although hundreds of pilots had died in plane crashes by mid- 1911, she was determined to be the first woman granted an Aviation pilot’s license. Quimby chronicled her experiences from her first lesson on May 10 to passing the tests on August I in a three-part series in the magazine. Her license was granted by the Aero Club of America on August 2.

On April 16,1912, she became the first woman to pilot a monoplane across the English Channel. Her accomplishment was eclipsed by the sinking of the Titanic two days earlier and the subsequent loss of more than 1,600 lives. Her homecoming was further dimmed when 15,000 women’s suffrage marchers paraded down Fifth Avenue a few days before her arrival.

Less than two-and-a-half months later, Harriet Quimby died when turbulent air threw her and Harvard-Boston Aviation Meet manager William A.P. Willard from her new Bleriot monoplane as they returned from a flight around Boston Light.

Ed Hall has attempted to help reclaim Harriet Quimby’s rightful place in history by connecting a number of Quimby’s Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly articles with an enlightening and informative narrative. He allows her to tell the story in her own words and accompanies it with comprehensive bibliographic information.

Ed. Hall has also written Valley of the Shadow, coauthored Flying with the Hell’s Angels and edited Fated to Survive and The Search for MlAs.