I’ve been thinking of writing a similar article for a while, but I guess just one is not enough, there is a lot to learn. And since I enjoy discovering history through biographies, here’s the first part of a series. Known, unknown, famous and less famous, it will depend on where you live and what interests you.
1. Amelie Beese (1886-1925)
Born in Dresden from a wealthy middle-class family, at first she studies art and architecture with the intention of making a career as a sculptor. An aviation enthusiast, after seeing the exploits of her coevals, however, she decides to put aside the studies carried out so far to start new ones, on her parents’ insistence, on design and flight mechanics. Despite open hostilities and sabotages from many fellow men, she is able to get a pilot license in 1911 on the day of his birthday, the first woman of German origin to obtain such a license. She does not stop here: she continues to study and fly, beating some records, including Helen Dutrieu’s altitude, opens her flight school along with her husband, Charles Boutard, also a pilot, and releases many patents. Unfortunately, funds for the construction of airplanes, in war time, are conveyed entirely to larger companies, especially since, according to German law, the Boutards are French and therefore, as foreigners, they can not receive funds from the government. The situation, both global and private, begins to worsen: little is known about Amelie’s last years, until suicide, in 1925.
2. Amy Johnson (1903-1941)
Born and raised in Hull, after a short while in Sheffield, she decides to move to London: soon she is fascinated by the first aircrafts, so much to spend a lot of time on the aerodrome. Having obtained her pilot license in 1929, she begins to plan a trip to Australia. The following year she departs from Croydon to Darwin, with very basic information on weather and maps. She is the first woman to fly alone from Great Britain to Australia. She then sets record times from London to Tōkyō, Moscow, Cape Town and the United States.
In the 1940s she focuses on other activities, especially on fashion, working with designer Elsa Schiaparelli until she joins a RAF support organization. She loses her life during a mission, although it is not clear what happened and there are various theories about it.
For the 75th anniversary of her death, the town of Hull has dedicated a festival, with the reconstruction of the biplane with which she traveled to Australia, the Gipsy Moth.
Photo © Bernard Sharp (cc-by-sa/2.0) [link]
3. Helen Richey (1909–1947)
Passionate about aviation and determined to become a pilot, she begins to take flight lessons in 1929 and gets a license one year later. At first she works mainly in exhibitions but, deciding to make her own passion a real job, she soon gets the license to fly commercial aircraft. In spite of this, he continues for some time to work in shows and to compete.
Next, Helen asks to become a co-pilot at Central Airlines (then United Airlines): the first woman to be hired by a commercial airline. Although at first, though partly due to her popularity, she manages to make frequent flights, she soon meets the men’s hostility and some opposition from the Department of Commerce, which allows her to fly only a few times a month.
During the war, she served as an flight instructor for both military and civilian personnel, as well as as a pilot in the English Air Transport Auxiliary and later in a similar program at home.
Unfortunately, at the end of the war, jobs are entrusted to men and Helen, probably frustrated and depressed, withdraws and subsequently takes her life in 1947.
4. Sophie Blanchard (1778-1819)
It is said she was shy and reserved, was easily frightened by loud noises and carriages: nevertheless, she fell in love with flying at the first experience.
Her husband, an inventor and fan of hot-air balloons, convinces her to try some ascension together, hoping that the presence of a woman would be advertised and, therefore, he can earn a lot. After some ascensions in company, Sophie makes one alone in 1805, becoming the first woman to pilot a balloon.
She continues to perform after the death of her husband, drawing Napoleon’s attention first and Louis XVIII’s then, who both set up offices for her in their government. Meanwhile, she makes several trips to Europe.
During her last flight, just after lighting some fireworks, the balloon gets fire and then hits the roof of a house, kicking Sophie into the street.
5. Raymonde de Laroche (1882-1919)
A multi-faceted artist, she begins to fly after the encounter with Charles Voisin: after a year she gets the license, the first time ever for a woman. Soon she starts to participate in numerous performances in Europe and Africa and is given the title of Baroness by the press, an idea reinforced by the encounter with Tsar Nicola II, who addresses her with this title. At the outbreak of war, she plans to fly planes in battle, but she is not allowed to do so: she was still able to do her part on the ground. She then decides to become a test pilot, setting up several altitude records, but, during a test with a new plane, she is killed after a malfunction.
If you go to Le Bourget airport in Paris, you can see a dedicated statue.
Second part at this link.
Photo by Roger B. Whitman Early Aviation Photograph Collection, NASM Acc. No. XXXX-0517. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“Flying is everything, living is nothing.”