Harriet Quimby Solo Act…and win some books ~Tanya Hanson

On April 16, 1912, American aviator Harriet Quimby became the first woman to fly across the English Channel….traveling from Dover to France in only 59 minutes. She was also the first woman ever licensed as a pilot in the United States.


Sadly, her great accomplishment was swallowed by the horrifying news flashing around the world: Titanic Sinks.

Known as America’s First Lady of the Air, Harriet was a Michigan farm girl born May 11, 1875. With her family, she moved to California when she was twelve. In later years, she gave May 1, 1884, as her birthdate, her birthplace as Arroyo Grande, California, and claimed her parents were wealthy.

Becoming a New York journalist and a screenwriter for pioneer filmmaker D.Q. Griffith, for whom she wrote seven screenplays, Harriet was also a drama critic and photojournalist. She traveled on assignment to Europe, Mexico, Cuba, and Egypt for Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, a popular women’s journal. Among her other writing duties were advice columns and car repair tips.

She was truly the independent career woman who drove her own car, even smoked the very unladylike cigarette.


In October 1910, she went to France to cover a story on an aviation tournament and caught the flying bug. She took lessons with a friend and continued instruction even after he died in a flying accident. By then, the press had caught interest in her and considered her foray into aviation newsworthy enough to cover it.


The second woman in the world to be licensed as a pilot (the first was Frenchwoman Baroness de Roche), Harriet was the first American to do so, having passed her pilot’s test on August 1, 1911. She was awarded license #37 from the Aero Club of America, an adjunct of the International Aeronautic Federation which granted international pilots’ licenses. Immediately after receiving her license, Harriet began exhibition flying and toured throughout the country and Mexico.


Although a woman prior to Harriet had crossed the English Channel in a plane, she was just a passenger, and Harriet ached to be the first female to pilot the route.  In March 1912, she secretly sailed to England and borrowed a 50 HP monoplane from Louis Bleriot, who in 1909, had been the first person ever to fly across the English Channel.

On April 16, Harriet flew his identical route but in reverse. When she left Dover at dawn, overcast skies forced her to rely solely on her compass for position.

About an hour later, she landed near Calais, France, thirty miles from her planned landing spot. Of course, news of her achievement was sparsely covered with good reason, the Titanic tragedy.

But Harriet’s spirit sailed on but only for three short months. On July 1, 1912, she participated in the Third Annual Boston Aviation Meet over Boston Harbor. With event organizer William Willard as her passenger, Harriett circled Boston Lighthouse.

To the horrified spectators below, the two-seater plane, flying at 1,500 hundred feet, suddenly lurched. Willard fell out and plunged to his death. Moments later, Harriet fell out of the plane and was killed as well. The plane glided to a landing in the mud flats below.

Theories on the accident abounded. Some claimed cables tangled in the plane. Some posited that Willard shifted his weight, causing imbalance. Nonetheless, neither appeared to be wearing their seat belts.

Harriet was buried first at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York, finally resting at Kenisco Cemetery, Valhalla New York. Her career was short –only 11 months, but she was a role model for generations and inspired Amelia Earhart.

In 1991, she was featured on a fifty-cent air mail stamp.

Although my next release, Soul Food, has nothing to do with an aviation pioneer, I am giving away (pdf) copies of the first two books in the series today. Hearts Crossing Ranch and Redeeming Daisy. Hopefully to inspire you to want to read book five. If you already own or have read either story, I will send you Books Three and Four, Sanctuary and Right to Bragg. Any kind of mix and match. So please leave a comment.


Now, for today’s big question:

 Have you ever flown a plane? Hang-glided? Hot air ballooned? BASE-jumped? Zip-lined?  Ridden in a helicopter or private jet?  Anything other than commercial air-travel that takes you off terra firma?  As for me, you may recall I’m terrified of down escalators…

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32 thoughts on “Harriet Quimby Solo Act…and win some books ~Tanya Hanson”

  1. I was 16 when I flew for the first time (commercial airline) and I remember what an incredible if slightly scary feeling it was. Nothing more exotic than that though, though, I’m afraid – because I am too afraid to try it!

  2. Hi Tanya,

    Thank you for this fascinating post. I’ve never heard of Harriet Quimby. She sounds like a real go-getter.

    I have only flown in a commercial flight, and that’s fine with me. I wouldn’t mind the helicopter, but I would have to be sedated to hang-glide, zip-line or hot air balloon. And I’ve never had the need to jump out of a perfectly sound plane. :o)

  3. Did they even have seat belts in those old planes? Looking at the pictures, it amazes me that someone would soar to great heights in a contraption that didn’t even have sides to it. What a brave pioneer Miss Harriet was! So sad but yet poetic for her to have died the way she did.

  4. I love to hear stories about woman who did “first” in anything espeically way back when men thought woman were inferior to them. I have never flown any type of plane, but I always wanted to learn.. I guess it’s still not too late, but I don’t think my reflexes and thought process are the same anymore… And I have a couple of things that would not allow me to fly.
    But it is nice to dream of such things.

  5. My brother in law took me on my very first fight in his small plane, We have shared many laughs over that trip. It was amazing.
    I’m 68 and want someday to go up in a hot air balloon!

  6. Hi Pageturner, I totally get ya. Our next door neighbors, parents and two teenagers, all sky dived over Oahu last summer. All jumped at the same time. I’d have to be pushed out kicking and screaming. Made a pretty awesome family pic, though. Thanks so much for stopping in today!

  7. Hi Kirsten, always so good to see you here! I’ve ridden helicopters twice…both times in Hawaii to see stuff you couldn’t see any other way. First time, I thought I was going to die. The second, I loved it and didn’t want it to stop.

    I MIGHT do a zip line some day. Maybe. Because at least you’re still attached to something on the ground LOL. Glad you liked meeting Harriet. Another historic woman I never knew about either!

  8. Hi Karen, thanks for the post. I guess experts theorized that Harriet and Willard had belts they weren’t wearing. Bad decision. I guess it’s like car seat belts. There will always be people who won’t wear them. Gnarly way to go.

    Even though modern planes are so safe, I still can’t believe they’re able to fly, as big and heavy as they are. I agree….I’d never have had the nerve or the desire to go up in something so rickety!

  9. Hi Kathleen, I too love learning about women who decoy the common perceptions. I always knew about Amelia ear heart, of course, but it would have been nice to learn about Harriet , too. A little snippet about her hundred year mark in the local newspaper caught my the other day. That’s what got me curious.

    Dreams are great! Thanks for the post.

  10. Hi Connie, thanks for stopping by ! Always good to see you here. My hubby wants dearly to go in a hot air balloon. Too Wizard of Oz to me LOL. But maybe I’ll cave in. He’s parasailed and loved it, and our daughter BASE-jumped off a Swiss Alp, but I’m such a weenie.

    You must have had a ball on that plane ride!

  11. I was around 30 when I first flew in a plane. We took a ride in a very small plane, I think it had four seats in it. I kept thinking what we would do if it went down. I will say I did enjoy it though. I am very afraid of heights now so not sure I would do it again.

  12. Fascinating post Tanya – love learning about lady pioneers in any field.

    And the only flying I’ve ever done is in a commercial airliner as a passenger. And that’s about as adventuous as I ever plan to get 🙂

  13. My second commercial flight was grounded for bad weather. No chances being taken as, the day before, the plane on that scheduled route crashed in the same bad weather. But for seat belts and locked doors, I’d have walked those 1,000 miles home.

  14. Hi Quilt Lady, the first time I flew, I was 18 and off to college in Nebraska…a California girl landing in the middle of winter. Brrr. It was a jetliner, though. I absolutely know a four seated would terrify me. I’m not afraid to fly in big planes, though.glad you could join me today!

  15. Great blog, Tanya. Harriet is one of my idols. She even appears as a character in one of my books, ON THE WINGS OF LOVE.

    I’ve flown a small plane in the air, but didn’t take off or land. Have also taken a hot-air balloon ride (wonderful) and recently did a tandem sky dive. Base jumping? Not in a million years!

  16. I’m not the adventureous type…I have only flown in commercial airplanes. And I’m never too excited about that….I don’t like to fly. I admire those people who do…especially the little old grannies who skydive.

  17. Hi Winnie,, same here. I must confess to being a tad nervous before two commercial flights I’ve taken. One was on Alaska Air a couple weeks after one of their jets crashed horrifically into the ocean just a few miles from here. They say the pilot was a hero, managing to get to open sea rather than crash into residences. The other time was flying to Notre Dame right after 9/11. But both times I was of course perfectly safe. Thanks for the post, filly sister!

  18. Hi Liz, how scary! I remember missing my flight to Nebraska those years ago and being glad. It got stranded somewhere due to a blizzard en route. The next day my flight was problem free! So glad you could join me today!

  19. Elizabeth , how awesome! I have a lot of your books (and love them) but need to get this one soon as I can.

    My daughter did the BASE jumping tandem too. She said it was like floating through clouds. I was horrified when she emailed us about going to, but with the time difference, she’d already done it. So glad you knew of Harriet!

  20. I admire your daughter, Tanya. The scary thing about base jumping, besides hitting something on the way down, is that you only have one chute. In skydiving you have a backup chute and nothing but sky around you, so it’s safer.

  21. Me… I am not adventurous… I get my kicks from rollercoasters… can not stand ferris wheels… they are too slow and hate being stopped. I do not think I could stand a hot air balloon… *shivers*

  22. I am so NOT daring. I’m trying to think of something that even begins to be daring that I’ve done.
    And if I think of it, instead of thinking, “YAY! Way to be daring, Mary!”

    I’ll probably think, “I can’t believe I was stupid enough to ever do that!”

    I did once fly in a commercial jet small enough to have propellers but it was still a real plane. Just a pip-squeaky one. I actually liked the propellers. Those make more sense to me than jet engines. At least the plane is visibly working hard to keep me in the air. I appreciate that.

    • Hi Mary, our little municipal airport used to fly those little prop jets on commuter flights to LAX. It was soooo convenient, a fifteen minute flight opposed to over an hour in the car. But they discontinued the service about two years ago, and how we miss it! I do think those little planes are very daring LOL. They don’t seem to be high enough or fast enough . Thanks for the post

  23. Hi Tanya — Nope, I haven’t done anything so adventurous. I have friends who had zip-lined though and really thought it thrilling. My biggest escapade was to bike down the Haleakela volcano is Hawaii. It was an exciting ride, starting from above the clouds.

    • Hi Charlene, having driven up to Haleakala, I would have nightmares biking down. far worse than an escalator LOL. But it sure looks like fun for the not faint hearted. Thanks for the post! Xooxox

  24. Very interesting and sad too. I flown in a helicopter in HI and I’ve taken a ride in a small plane, loved it. My dad took flying lessons, but never flew solo. My dad took my mom flying many tims before they were married.

    • Hi Nancy, good to see you here in Wildflower Junction. Helicoptering around the islands is sure a stunning way to take in the gorgeous scenery. I’ve never even considered flying lessons. I don’t even like driving all that much LOL. Thanks for the post.

  25. Tanya,
    This is soooo interesting. I had never heard of Harriet Quimby!

    Oh, yes. I have ridden in a helicopter–when I was about 10 years old. My parents had taken me to the state fair here in Oklahoma. One of the “rides” was paying $5 to go up in a helicopter and see the fair from the air. I wanted that soooo much. My parents were both very afraid to fly, but my mom more so than my dad. Still, he agreed, and he felt he needed to go with me. Well, $5 for each of us in 1967 was a very steep price, but it was the highlight of my fair trip that year. As we rose above the fairgrounds, I could see my dad’s knuckles turning white as he clasped them on the arms of the seat. I kept chattering, “Oh, look at that! This is great! Isn’t this FUN?” He agreed, and tried to be enthusiastic, but it was in that moment I realized he was worried and didn’t want to be there. I think that was my first epiphany that parents are people too. I reached over and took his hand. I think the pilot saw what was going on because right after that he turned back to land–a tiny bit sooner than I wished for, but I know my dad was relieved. I have never forgotten that expression of true love. He really tried hard not to spoil it for me. I guess we all do things like that for our kids. LOL
    Cheryl P.

    • Hi Cheryl, your story reminds me of the time in Oahu our daughter wanted to parasailed she was about ten, too. It was the only thing she wanted to do. But I had to sign up her dad, too. At first he was not enthused, but when it was over, he said it was a tremendous experience. What a lovely memory you have, and I bet your dad, too. Thanks for the post.xoxoxox

  26. Hi Elizabeth , I totally admit to being terrified. Shiver. The pix the guide took of her were surreal. She’s never wanted to do it again LOL. Now that she’s a mom, we keep hoping her little guy gives her some gray hair like she did us LOL. Xoxox

  27. Hi Colleen, oh, roller coasters make me shiver, too. I can do the Matterhorn at Disneyland but those framework roller coasters, and the scary ones at Six Flags etc. to me are what he’ll must be like. Yikes. So glad you could stop by today!

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