Friday, April 16, 2010

In History: Harriet Quimby

This is the 21th post in a weekly feature here at Spare Candy, called "In History." Some posts might be little more than a photo, others full on features. If you have any suggestions for a person or event that should be featured, or would like to submit a guest post or cross post, e-mail me at rosiered23 (at) sparecandy (dot) com.
On this date in 1912, just days after the Titanic sank, Harriet Quimby became the first woman to fly solo over the English Channel. Quimby, in fact, was the first woman in the United States to earn her pilot's license. She took part in tours and flying exhibitions -- including one just outside Boston, on July 16, 1912, for which she was paid $100,000. (This seems a large sum to me, even by today's standards, but I think Quimby was something of a novelty and people wanted to see her, so she was probably a big draw. She even had a signature flying suit -- and it was made of purple satin. I wish there were color photos!)

Sadly, that air show was Quimby's last: as she was flying in it, with a passenger, her plane lurched and both of them were ejected (open cockpit) and fell to the ground. They both died. Quimby, who was born in 1875, was just 37 years old.

Quimby was also a journalist and a theater critic, and she wrote five screenplays that were made into silent films. She was memorialized in 1991 on a postage stamp. Because I often urge the readers of this blog to write to their representatives in Congress, I am particularly fond of this piece of Quimby's writing, published June 8, 1911:
For forty years we have been smarting under the national disgrace of the wicked slaughter of American bison. If something is not done, and done quickly, we will be smarting under the disgrace of having looked calmly on while our American birds are being slaughtered and gradually annihilated ... The great trouble is there are twenty times too many men and boys who shoot according to law. If killing (wild game) goes on as it now is going, our grandchildren will see a gameless continent…there are already extinct the great auk, passenger pigeon, Labrador duck, flamingo, Carolina parakeet ... and threatened… are the whooping crane, trumpeter swan, …American egret, wood duck, ... and prairie grouse…” But what can we do? ... The layman can write his protest and forward it to Congressmen and Senators before whom the bills for the protection of birds in various States will appear...”
More reading:
  • PBS: "Chasing the Sun," includes archived video.
  • U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission: "Harriet Quimby"
  • This sight is full of great information. It even has excerpts of some of the articles Qumiby wrote, from which the above excerpt was pulled.
  • There are images of the two newspaper articles about Quimby. One is a report of her flight over the English Channel. The second is a report of her death.

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