Michigan Women’s Spotlight: Harriet Quimby

Did you know that the first licensed female pilot in the United States, Harriet Quimby, was born in Michigan?

Born to William and Ursula Quimby on May 11, 1875 “somewhere in Michigan” near Arcadia, Harriet Quimby was a modern woman during a not-so modern era. In an age before women’s suffrage, Harriet was a pioneer in challenging the social status quo by stepping outside of traditional societal roles.

A romanticist and an adventure seeker, Harriet moved to California during her teenage years. She tried her hand in acting, journalism and eventually piloting — once her writing career gave her the freedom, financial backing and exposure to pursue her desires of travel and adventure.

While writing for Leslie’s Illustrated in New York, Harriet would go on to meet and befriend American pilot John Moisant, who she covered during New York’s Belmont Air Meet in October of 1910. Moisant, who owned a school for aviation, began teaching Harriet the finer points of flying until his tragic death only a few short months later in December 1910.

By May 1911, Harriet — who enthusiastically believed flying “looked quite easy” — had convinced her editor that Leslie’s should pay for her flying lessons and in return she would chronicle her experience for the magazine’s readers.

As a result of this agreement, Harriet would become the first American woman to earn a pilot’s license: License #37 on Aug. 1, 1911 — sanctioned by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale and administered by the Aero Club of America.

In addition to becoming the first woman pilot to be licensed, Harriet also become the first woman to fly over the English Channel and today a historical marker can be found in her honor near the now-abandoned farmhouse in Arcadia Township where Quimby was born.