This stamp features Harriet Quimby (1875-1912), one of the few women honored on Airmail stamps. A journalist and drama critic, she was the first American woman to receive a pilot’s license, and the first woman to fly the English Channel solo.
First Woman To Fly Across The English Channel
On April 16, 1912, Harriet Quimby became the first woman to fly across the English Channel.
Quimby was born in Arcadia, Michigan, on May 11, 1875. Her family moved to California in the early 1900s, after which she became a journalist. In 1903 she moved to New York City to take a job as a theater critic for Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly. During her nine-year career with the magazine, she reviewed plays, the circus, comedians, and the new form of entertainment – moving pictures. Traveling to Europe, Mexico, Cuba, and Egypt, she published over 250 articles.
In 1910, Quimby became interested in aviation after attending the Belmont Park International Aviation Tournament in Long Island, New York. It was there that she met John and Alfred Moisant, who ran a flying school. She began taking flying lessons and wrote about the experience for Leslie’s. The following year, on August 1, 1911, she took her pilot’s test and became the first American woman to earn an Aero Club of America aviator’s certificate. She was only the second woman in the world to receive a pilot’s license.
That same year, Quimby wrote seven screenplays that were made into short films by D.W. Griffith for Biograph studios. Quimby even had a small role in one of the films.
Quimby soon became well known as a pilot and started touring the U.S. and Mexico as an exhibition flyer. She personally designed her purple flying uniform, making her stand out among female pilots that largely wore adapted versions of men’s clothes. Quimby then became the spokesperson Vin Fiz grape soda, adorning her signature purple uniform with the company’s advertising.
By late 1911, Quimby decided that she wanted to become the first woman to fly across the English Channel. Another woman had already flown across as a passenger, but Quimby worried another might make the flight as a pilot before she got the chance. To prevent others from realizing it was her goal, Quimby secretly sailed to England in March 1912. Once she arrived, Quimby borrowed a 50-horsepower monoplane from Louis Blériot, the first man to fly across the Channel in 1909.
Quimby embarked on her record flight on April 16, 1912. She took a similar route as Blériot, but in reverse. She left Dover, England at dawn, amid overcast skies that forced her to rely on compass alone. About an hour later, Quimby landed near Calais, France, about 30 miles from her intended landing spot. Though she succeeded, Quimby didn’t get the recognition she deserved at the time, because the sinking of the Titanic days before was the main focus of all the world’s newspapers.
Quimby wasn’t deterred, and returned to exhibition flying. That July, she took part in the Third Annual Boston Aviation Meet. On July 1, she took to the skies with the event’s organizer William Willard and circled the Boston Lighthouse. As they flew, the plane inexplicably lurched forward. Moments later, Willard fell out of the plane, followed shortly after by Quimby, and the pair died from the fall. It’s still unknown just what caused the plane to lurch as it did, but the accident was then toted as an example of the importance of seat belts aboard airplanes.
Though her aviation career only lasted 11 months, Quimby was a major influence for generations of female pilots, including Amelia Earhart.