Although the name Amelia Earhart is perhaps a better-known name when it comes to women and flying, Harriet Quimby deserves just as much recognition due to her position as the first woman to receive a pilot’s license. In fact, that’s why we’re here today: It’s Harriet Quimby Day.
Now, you may be asking yourselves, “why today?” That’s a valid question. Harriet Quimby was born on May 11, 1875, so it’s not her birthday. And she flew across the English Channel — she was the first woman to do so — on April 16, so it’s not the anniversary of that event. And she died on July 1, 1912 (although that would be a depressing day to celebrate, so we’re thankful it’s not that).
Why today? Because on August 2, 1911, Quimby was granted her pilot’s license. Although many would claim that her journey across the English Channel is far more significant — and, granted, it’s more exciting — it is important to recognize Quimby for her ability to conquer the glass ceiling. That is, we choose to recognize her not only because of her dangerous accomplishments, but also because of her refusal to accept gender barriers.
So who was Harriet Quimby? She was born on May 11, 1875 in Arcadia, Michigan. What’s interesting about Quimby is that she didn’t set out to have a career as a pilot. In fact, she was originally a journalist. She moved to New York City in 1903 after taking a job as a theater critic for Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly. It 1910, however, she went to the Belmont Park International Aviation Tournament on Long Island and everything changed. There, she met the pilot John Moisant, who encouraged Quimby to apply for her pilot’s license. On August 1, 1911, Quimby took the test and, the next day, she became the first U.S. woman to earn an aviator’s certificate from the Aero Club of America.
Unfortunately, this story ends rather abruptly. After successfully flying across the English Channel — a feat that garnered little media attention due to the fact that the Titanic sank the day before — Quimby went to Massachusetts to fly in the Third Annual Boston Aviation Meet. It was there, during her flight, that Quimby’s plane pitched forward for unknown reasons. She and the other passenger — William Willard, the organizer of the event — fell to their deaths.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances of Quimby’s death, she is still remember to be an important figure both in the history of flight and the history of women. So, let’s celebrate! Happy Harriet Quimby Day!