On This Day: First U.S. Female to Earn Pilot’s License

Posted on Mon, August 1 2016

On August 1, 1911, Harriet Quimby became the first licensed female pilot in the United States, and the second woman to receive a pilot’s license in the world.

Quimby, a successful journalist and film critic, became interested in aviation after she covered the Belmont Air Show on Long Island for Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly in 1910.

  • Article from the August 24, 1911 edition of Leslie's Weekly entitled, "How I Won My Aviator's License" by Harriet Quimby. Image: NASM-9A12068

  • Full-length color portrait of Harriet Quimby in her purple flight suit, standing in front of a Bleriot XI type monoplane. Image: SI-72-10099

  • Portrait of Harriet Quimby in an airplane. Image: NASM 2002-23705

That same year, Quimby began taking flying lessons with John Moisant and, after four months of training, made her first attempt at getting a pilot’s license. 

To earn the license, Quimby had to land her plane within 30 meters (100 feet) of where she left the ground. Her first attempt fell short, but on the next day she set her aircraft down 2 meters and 23 centimeters (7 feet, 9 inches) from the mark, qualifying for the coveted license. In April 1912, Quimby became the first woman to fly across the English Channel.