Amelia Earhart’s Hero: Harriet Quimby – America’s First Licensed Woman Pilot


Do heroes need heroes? Here’s how Amelia Earhart, the most famous aviator of the 1920’s and 1930’s followed in the footsteps of the most famous aviator of the 1910’s

As a young girl, Amelia Earhart kept a scrapbook of women in all walks of life who achieved some measure of fame or success in their chosen field. These were her heroes. If heroes are chosen by someone one wishes to emulate, then no doubt Harriet Quimby would have been one of her heroes.

Harriet was the first woman to earn her pilot’s license in the United States. Amelia was the first woman to get her National Aeronautics Association License in the United States. In fact, there are many similarities between Amelia and the remarkable Harriet Quimby.

Similarities Between Amelia and Harriet

Both were born in the Midwest – Harriet was probably born in Michigan in 1875 and Amelia in Kansas in 1897. Amelia’s grand parents and Harriet’s parents were both pioneers and early settlers in their respective regions of the country. Amelia’s parents were like Harriet’s parents in that both of their mothers had a much higher social standing than their fathers.

Family Similarities

Although Harriet had nine siblings originally, only she and one sister survived childhood. Amelia also had only one sibling – a sister that survived childhood. It appears Harriet and her sister were not close and early in her adult life, Harriet’s sister moved and was never to be heard from again. Amelia always stayed in touch with her sister, Muriel but Amelia and Muriel were quite different – Amelia’s life was all about non-conventionality and Muriel’s was all about conventionality.

Unexpectedly, Harriet’s parents pulled up root in Michigan when Harriet was a teenager and moved to California. Amelia’s parents moved to California when Amelia was in her twenties.

Similar Friends

After moving to California, Harriet became an actress and had many famous actors and actresses of the day as friends. Amelia never acted, but she directed plays for children in the Denison Settlement House in Boston. After moving to California, Amelia had many famous actor friends. Both were acquainted with Mary Pickford. Like Amelia, Harriet became great friends with many famous and important people in her day, such as Jack London and Ambrose Bierce. Amelia’s friends included Charles Lindbergh, Will Rogers and Mae West.

Similarities in Avocation

Shortly after arriving in California, in early 1900, Harriet also began writing for newspapers and magazines. After flying across the Atlantic as the first woman passenger, Amelia also began writing for magazines and books. Both women learned how to use a camera and did so quite well. One of Amelia’s favorite subjects was the everyday garbage can. Harriet photographed everyday people doing every day things, like cabbage vendors. Harriet’s photographs often accompanied her articles. Both woman also designed their own clothes.

Amelia loved to drive and so did Harriet. Amelia drove her car she named the “Yellow Peril” across the country from California to Boston and was often known to drive too fast and get tickets because of it. Harriet also loved to drive – even driving once in an auto race. Both women could also do maintenance on their own vehicles.

Similarities in Love

Harriet never married, but supposedly had an unrequited love with a “Latin artist” she may have met at Papa Coppas restaurant in California. Amelia married fairly late in life and had an open marriage. It is rumored that she had an ongoing relationship with Gene Vidal – of Latin decent.
Similarities in their Aviation Careers

Both women found their true passion in aviation. Harriet was the first woman to cross the English Channel, while Amelia was the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Both helped not only women to advance but helped make advancements in aviation. Of course both women loved traveling and both toured Mexico and Europe.

Similarities in Death

Finally, both women met their deaths rather mysteriously in an airplane flying over water. Harriet was flying in the shallow waters off Boston in 1912 and something caused her plane to tip. In trying to save the life of her passenger, Harriet fell out of the plane and to her death. Amelia was flying in the deep waters off Howland Island in the South Pacific in 1937 and instead of landing on Howland, was never heard from again.