Women who Rock!: Three Famous Female Aviators You Should Know

Three Famous Female Aviators to Tape on Your Wall

In honor of Girls in Aviation Day, we’re featuring the three female aviators who contributed to aviation history that you should know! In fact, there are so many women who have contributed to aviation history, that’s it pretty tough to choose only three, so we’ll definitely be doing this feature again.

Raymonde de Laroche

Raymonde de Laroche, Reims, France, 1909

Born on August 22, 1882 in Paris, France, Élise Léontine Deroche, better known by her stage name Baroness Raymonde de Laroche, was the world’s first woman to receive a pilot’s license in 1910 from the l’Aéro-club de France. As a child, she loved sports, motorcycles and cars, but later she became an actress, artist and sculptor. Seeing the Wright brothers’ powered flight demonstrations in Paris inspired Laroche to take up flying herself. In October 1909 in Châlons-en-Champagne, France, she started taking flying lessons with her friend Charles Voisin. Her lessons took place in a single-seat plane, with her behind the controls and Voisin instructing her from the ground. It was rumored that during her first lesson, she took off several meters in the air and flew for 300 meters, much to the dismay of her instructor.

Once she received her pilot’s license, she participated in aviation meetings in Egypt, Saint Petersburg, Budapest, Rouen, and Reims. During the airshow at St. Petersburg, she was personally congratulated by Tsar Nicholas II.

Early flight was highly dangerous. In July 1910, de Laroche suffered serious injuries in a plane crash at the airshow. Many people thought she would never be able to recover. But after two years of rehabilitation and recovery, she returned to flying. On November 25, 1913, de Laroche won the Aero-Club of France's Femina Cup for a non-stop, long distance flight of over four hours. During World War I, women were not allowed to fly, so she became a military driver transporting soldiers to the front line. At the end of the war, she took up aviation meetings, airshows and competitions right where she left off, and she achieved several flight records for altitude and distance before she was tragically killed in a crash in 1919.

Click here to see a video about her life.

Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman with her Curtiss JN-4 in 1922

Born on January 26, 1892 in Texas, Bessie Coleman was the first woman of African-American descent and of Native American descent to obtain an international pilot license. The tenth out of thirteen children in a family of sharecroppers, she started working into the cotton fields at a young age. But Bessie wanted to amount to something in her life. She attended a small segregated school and excelled in math, but she was often taken out of school to help her family pick cotton. After saving up money, she went on to attend Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University (now called Langston University), but her savings ran out, and she was forced to return home.


Nicknamed "Queen Bess" and "Brave Bess"

In 1915, she moved to Chicago, and there, inspired by the stories of pilots returning from World War I, she decided that she too would become a pilot. But, unfortunately, the US flight schools refused to teach her. Unfairly rejected due to her race and her gender, Bessie refused to take no for an answer. She instead decided to learn French and moved to France to study piloting. She achieved her international pilot license in 1921 from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

Upon her retun to the the United States, she became a media sensation. She realized in order to make a living as a civil aviator, she would need to perform daring stunts to attract audiences.  Primarily flying a Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” biplanes, she became a successful airshow pilot in the United States. She was committed to combatting racism and refused to participate in airshows where African Americans were not allowed in the audience. Her dream was to inspire other pilots and, particularly, to start a school for African-American fliers.  


But tragically, she died in a plane crash in 1926 while testing her new aircraft in Jacksonville, Florida. Her pioneering role in aviation history was an inspiration to early pilots and to the African-American and Native American communities.

Click here to see a video telling more about her life. 

Marie Marvingt

Marie Marvingt in her Deperdussin airplane in 1912

A true force of nature and nicknamed "the fiancée of danger", Marie Marvingt was a pioneer in the field of aviation, a world class athlete who set records in multiple sports, a renowned mountaineer, and inventor of the air ambulance service.  Born on February 20, 1875, Marie shared her love of sports with her father, who was a swimming champion and sports fanatic. At four, she could already swim four kilometers, and, at 15, she canoed over 400 kilometers from Nancy, France to Koblenz, Germany.

Skiing in Chamonix in 1913. 

An amazing athlete, Marie set records in swimming, fencing, shooting, skiing, speed skating, luge and bobsledding. A skilled mountaineer, she became the first woman to climb numerous peaks in the French and Swiss Alps. In 1905, she became the first woman to swim the length of the Seine River throughout the city of Paris. In 1908, when the Tour de France refused to let her participate because she was a woman, she completed the entire race anyway, becoming the first woman to do so.

Marvingt in a hot air balloon at the Grand Prix,  Aéro-Club de France in 1910.

In the field of aviation, Marie was the first woman to pilot a hot air balloon across the North Sea in 1909 and became the first woman to cross the English Channel in a hot air balloon in 1914. The third French woman to become a pilot, Marvingt received her pilot's license from the Aéro-Club de France on November 8, 1910.

Disguised as a man, she served on the front lines as a solider during World War I. Later, she was discovered and sent home. With a desire to contribute to the war effort, she refused to give in, becoming the first woman to fly combat missions over German-held territory in 1915.  

Marie Marvingt in the trenches during WWI

First proposing the idea of a flying ambulance service to the French government in 1910, Marie became a pioneer of Aviation Sanitaire, the idea of evacuating injured military personnel using airplanes as ambulances. Studying medicine, Marie became the first registered flight nurse. A record-breaking athlete, mountaineer, aviator, nurse, among many other accomplishments, Marie Marvingt was a true adventurer with a desire to excel and overcome any obstacle or challenge.

Laura Drewett is the CEO and Co-Founder of Pourquoi Princesse. She’s also a mom to a boisterous, vivacious little girl and a calm, cuddly little boy. An American, she lives in the south of France with her husband and kids.

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