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Edward's Untimely Death Series: Entry #10

Although Harriet Quimby (1875-1912) had an amazingly short career as a pilot—a mere 11 months—she is famous for being the first American woman to become a licensed pilot and the first woman to fly across the English Channel.

Born in Michigan, May 1875, Quimby aspired to a career on the stage, but instead became a journalist in San Francisco. In 1903, she became a staff member at Leslie's Illustrated Weekly in New York City. At Leslie's she traveled the world as a photojournalist, and wrote theater reviews. In 1906 she was taken for a high speed automobile ride, which spurred her interest in speed; she subsequently bought her own car and advised others to buy them too.

Harriet's also worked as a screenwriter: she sold several stories to silent screen director D.W. Griffith, who in turn produced five movies based on her works.

While attending the Belmont Park International Aviation Tournament in Long Island, New York, in October 1910, Quimby met Matilde Moisant and her brother John, who was an American aviator and operator of a flight school with his brother Alfred. At that time the Wright Brothers schools did not teach women, and Quimby convinced Alfred to teach her and Matilde how to fly. On August 1, 1911, Quimby became the first U.S. woman to earn a pilot's license, with Matilde following close behind as the second licensee.

In her trademark purple satin flying suit with hood, Quimby became the first woman to fly at night, and she and Matilde were the first women to fly over Mexico. On April 16, 1912, Quimby departed Dover, England towards Calais, France, but instead landed in Hardelot, France, nonetheless becoming the first woman to fly the English Channel. Unfortunately, her accomplishment was lost among the stories of a major disaster—the sinking of the Titanic two days prior.

While flying her new 70-horsepower two-seat Bleriot monoplane at the Third Annual Boston Aviation Meet at Squantum, Massachusetts on July 1, 1912, Harriet and her passenger William Willard—the event's organizer—experienced an unexpected pitch forward, ejecting Willard out of the plane, followed seconds later by Quimby. They plunged to their deaths in the Dorchester Bay in front of 5,000 spectators. Details of the accident appeared in the Fort Wayne Sentinel.


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