abandon skirts!

Harriet Quimby was America’s first licensed female pilot.

At 37, Harriet Quimby already drove her own runabout, held a senior editorial position with New York’s popular Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly and lived as a single woman in Manhattan. Perfecting poise and style in her youthful modeling days also served Quimby well when she stepped into the limelight of another very public career. . .as an aviatrix.

Sensing her place in history, she chose to wear a unique flying costume no one would ever forget. Quimby’s knickerbocker pants, although alternatively disguised as a modest skirt, was not appreciated by all as a fashion statement. In 1911 an editorial ran which quoted a Connecticut Catholic priest who felt the “new woman” was wearing “vulgar” costumes. Quimby ignored this criticism; so secure in her own image she did not even fear the wrath of God.

This priest is also unimpressed by vulgar fashions

Helen Dutrieu, the “Lady Hawk” swooped into the 1911 Nassau Boulevard Air Meet where Quimby also participated. “Her drab colored costume of cravenette serge caught the feminine eye as she swung across the flying field,” wrote the Times journalist. To avoid poking a whalebone through her chest in case of a “crack-up,” the reporter immodestly revealed “Mlle. Dutrieu is always corsetless when she soars. . . Miss Quimby does not take this precaution.”

image of Helen Dutrieu found here

Already famous for her exhibition flying, Harriet Quimby secured her place in aviation history by becoming the first woman to solo across the English Channel in 1912. Although considered so dangerous that a male pilot offered to wear her purple silk flying costume and impersonate her, Quimby’s cross-channel flight was made without mishap. She returned to New York City and less hazardous flying. Ironically, she and her male passenger fell to their deaths just three months later while making an exhibition flight around the Boston Light in Massachusetts.

Published in: on April 5, 2010 at 8:15 am  Comments (42)  
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42 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. In parts of South Africa, women are prohibited from wearing trousers. As Yoda would say, “Progressive, we are not.”

    • What parts Kyk? For religious reasons?

      • Kwazulu-Natal mainly – and for “traditional” reasons. Misogyny is very traditional here.

  2. Confucius say: Woman who fly upside-down sure to have crack-up.

    • Haha… I’m ashamed to say that took me a minute to get

  3. In aviation history, there are quite a few women who made considerable contributions. In Australia, Nancy Bird-Walton springs to mind.

  4. Jeez, for a second there I thought Quimby looked quite shockingly like Britney Spears. Need moar caffeeeeene.

    • oh those knickerbockers are so deceptive, especially when they’re hitched up around the thigh

  5. if you’re going down in flames, always good to look your best!

  6. Then there is Ruth Nichols who would be remembered instead of Amelia Earhart if her plane she planned to fly over the atlantic hadn’t crashed due to landing on too short a runway.

    • She had a couple of bad crashes didn’t she?

      • Yeah. I read the book Crosley and she was talked about a lot in there.

      • I just googled Crosley – looks very interesting

  7. My flying costume is a cape, tights and undies on the outside.

  8. While I admire her accomplishments (and love her name!) I am not inspired to take up flying – nor wear knickerbocker pants.

  9. There is always something deliciously sexual about a woman who throws both her underwear and caution to the wind.

    • Be careful if there’s a southerly blowing….

      • I’m sure she kept her hand firmly on the joystick under all conditions.

        The King

      • As would I Your Majesty

  10. A LICENSED pilot in 1911? It didn’t take the Yanks long to start regulating those heavier than air machines.

  11. It’s the vulgar ones who are always the most interesting. Although, hypocrite that I am, I would prefer that The Daughters NOT be vulgar.

  12. Aviatrix – great job title!

    • It would look good on your C.V. Lulu 🙂

  13. I want that job title too-I’d love to go to the bar and hand out my business cards, just to see the look on the guys’ faces…

    Fantastic as always, NM…like I said before, you and your blog are the reason why I’m always such a hit at parties…:)

    • You could make your own up b 😉

  14. Funny, all the articles talk about the trousers and flying “corsetless.” But I like the goggles and helmets, particularly Matilde Moisant’s helmet.

  15. Me likey this lady very much !

  16. Her male pilot friend was obviously trying to get out of the closet and into the corset ……. oh, she didn’t wear corsets did she? ……. whoops

  17. lol. I expected something else when I read the title. But I enjoyed reading about these ladies.

  18. Now there’s an advert for seatbelts… Can’t blame either for dressing in comfort. flying in the ridiculous costumes Edwardians wore would be impossible

  19. There’s next fashion comeback… knickerbocker pants for ladies. This Autumn women will dress like they’re going to fight The Red Baron. Aviatrix is the new hotness!

    • harriet is wearing boots… at least you’re consistent!

      • If you can’t be good or right, at least be consistent.

  20. Early 1900’s women pilot are so frackin’ hot! I’m serious!

  21. My late grandmother would love this post. She was a member of the PettiCoat Pilots, a group of the first women pilots in North Carolina. Great black and white photos.

  22. Cool story nursie. I was reading a couple of days ago that Elinor Smith had just died. She was a comtemporary of Amelia Earhart and was called the ‘Flying Flapper of Freeport.’

  23. I love reading about the first pilots, female or male. They had such…personality. That’s one thing I’ve regretted, never attempting to get a pilot’s license….yet.

  24. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by raincoaster. raincoaster said: Spiffy little piece about the first female pilots http://bit.ly/cRRVSs […]

  25. Awesome girl power.

  26. Wow…She looks like one snazzy flying dame in that last pic. Must have been quite the woman.

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