JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
I wondered about how long after the Wright's first powered flight (17 December 1903) that it took for a woman fly in an airplane, either as passenger or pilot. I was a little surprised--when I found my answer, my glasses weren't quite up to seeing the date on the top of the page very clearly, and on closer inspection I was a little taken aback to see how wrong my assumption was. It didn't take five weeks or five months, but five years before this happened.
It seems as though this honor belongs to Therese Peltier, who on 8 July 1908 was a passenger in the aircraft of her significant other, Leon Delagrance, flying a distance of about 700 feet1. An earlier great name for the history of women in aviation, E. Lillian Todd, was the first to design and build an airplane, though she was not able to fly the unflyable aircraft. A half-dozen or so women aviators appear in 1909, and by 1910 the course for women in aviation expands dramatically. (An interesting chronology of "firsts" for women in aviation can be found here; another site, Women in Aviation Web Magazine, can be found here.)
The image above, from the Illustrated London News for 25 July 1908 (the original issue of which is available at our blog bookstore), shows Ms. Peltier getting ready for the flight. It is interesting to note that the picture and story occurs in a section of the magazine called "Chronicle of the Car"
which is where reporting on aeroplanes and flight occurred, the subject not quite at the point where aviation deserved its own category. Of course the automobile was new, then, too, so it makes a little sense to have them lumped together...but not much. The "Chronicles" part of the magazine was a half-page affair, the last page before the advertisements began, the last leaf before the rear cover.
1. It seems as though there is debate on this, mostly over the Delagrance aircraft was indeed "modern" enough to be considered a modern heavier-than-air airplane, this over the way the control of the plane was handled. I'd say we just left Ms. Peltier alone on this one.
From the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum site
"Therese Peltier, a talented sculptor, became the first woman to fly as a passenger in a heavier-than-air craft. On July 8, 1908 she made a flight of 656 feet with Leon Delagrance in Milan, Italy. She subsequently made several solo flights in a Voisin biplane but did not pursue a flying career. On her flight at the Military Square at Turin, she flew for two minutes and traversed a distance of 200 meters at an elevation of seven feet." Early Flight (107)