In a 1909 edition of Leslie’s Weekly, a new play was reviewed by theater critic Harriet Quimby. The review took up a full page and was illustrated with a photo of the playwright, a photo of the actors on stage, and a drawing.

Though interesting and well-written, Quimby’s review didn’t get the attention it deserved. On the opposite page was an article, with photos, about the sinking of the luxury liner, RMS Republic. Two weeks earlier in the fog off the coast of Nantucket, the Republic had gone down after being t-boned by another liner, the SS Florida.

The unfortunate placement of Harriet Quimby’s review did not deter her success.

Petite and gorgeous, Quimby was also smart, creative, and ambitious. She had already carved out a living for herself as a writer when she attended an airshow in 1910. What she saw inspired her to do something no other American woman had done at that point: get a pilot’s license.

She was soon earning money as a pilot and encouraged others of her sex to do the same.

“There is no reason why the aeroplane should not open up a fruitful occupation for women,” she said. “I see no reason they cannot realize handsome incomes by carrying passengers between adjacent towns, [doing] parcel delivery, taking photographs, or conducting schools of flying. Any of these things it is now possible to do.”

Near the end of 1911, she was in Mexico City taking part in an airshow. While there, she realized that no woman had ever flown solo across the English Channel. She kept this realization to herself, not wanting to give anyone else the idea and have them try it before her.

She booked passage to England, borrowed a compass, borrowed an airplane, and waited for good weather. In those days of flying by sight, it was important to stay on course when crossing the Channel. A miscalculation could get you lost above the North Sea, a deadly proposition.

The man who showed her how to use the borrowed compass was concerned about her ability to navigate the Channel safely. He offered to don her signature purple flight suit and make the flight pretending to be her. She could then meet up with him in France, they would switch places, and she could take credit for the crossing. She refused.

Challenged by fog and contrary winds, Harriet Quimby, in an open cockpit and with a compass on her lap, flew unerringly to France, the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel.

This feat should have been celebrated, not just in England or France or in the United States, but around the world. It should have been on the front page of every newspaper and magazine. However, hardly a mention was made of Harriet Quimby and her historic flight.

A day earlier in the North Atlantic, the RMS Titanic had hit an iceberg and sank. That tragedy dominated the news for weeks, eclipsing Harriet’s triumph.

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