Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Women's History Month - Harriet Quimby

Harriet Quimby was born on a farm in Arcadia, Michigan, in 1875. While she has left hundreds of articles about people and events she covered as a reporter, very little is known about her personal life. She never married or had children, nor did she leave a diary or other record of her thoughts and inspirations.

Around turn of the century, the farm she was raised on had failed, and Harriet and her family moved to San Francisco, California, where she initially pursued a career as an actress, following her interest in the theater. Instead, she found her calling as a journalist, with "her curious 'nose for news' and intelligent writing style." In 1903, she moved to New York City to take a job with Leslie's Illustrated Weekly.
Fortified with a farm girl's practicality and the individualism of a woman from the wild west's most sophisticated city, Harriet headed for New York.

It didn't take Harriet long to claim territory in the “Big Apple”. From 1903-1912, she was employed by Leslie's Illustrated Weekly as a photo-journalist. She traveled, took prize winning photographs, and wrote and edited articles on subjects ranging from political scandal to household tips.
(source: harrietquimby.com)
Her continued passion for the stage enabled her to get a job as a theater critic at Leslie's. She was a brave career woman in the time when few women were venturing out into the public sphere. She drove her own car and supported herself and her parents.
By the last two years of her life, Harriet Quimby had become New York's sweetheart, frequently in the public eye, and always among the movers and shakers.
(source: harrietquimby.com)
In 1911 Harriet took flying lessons, and became the first woman to get a license in the United States. The excitement and challenge must have been exhilarating!

And, true to her theatrical nature, she went on exhibition in the U.S. and Mexico wearing a purple satin flying suit she designed herself.

Also in 1911, a very busy year for her, she wrote seven screenplays or scenarios that were made into silent film shorts which were directed by famous director D. W. Griffith.

In 1912, she was hired by the Vin Fiz Company as a spokesperson for their new grape soda. Her distinctive purple aviatrix uniform and image were seen in many of their advertising pieces.
In the spring of 1912, while continuing her journalism career at Leslie's, she maneuvered her 50hp monoplane across the English Channel. She was the first woman to do so.

By that summer, Harriet's personal charm, beauty and style combined with her well respected aviation skills fetched her a lucrative fee at air meets. At an aviation exhibition near Quincy, Massachusetts, Harriet and the manager of the air meet made a publicity stunt flight over the bay. As hundreds of spectators watched from below, Harriet and her passenger fell from the craft when it suddenly pitched forward. Few aviation accidents have spawned such continued speculation as to the cause. On July 1, 1912 Harriet Quimby's eleven month career in aviation ended. She left behind a vision of glamour, courage and intelligence.
(source: harrietquimby.com)
Who knows what else she would have accomplished if she hadn't died so young?

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