Harriet Quimby was already a journalist, theater critic, photographer, and screenwriter when she convinced an aviator to teach her to fly. In 1911, eight years after the Wright brothers’ first flight, she became the first woman in the United States to earn a pilot’s license. On April 16, 1912, she became the first woman to pilot a plane across the English Channel. Amelia Earhart later described Quimby’s fragile craft as “hardly more than a winged skeleton with a motor.” Quimby wrote about her flight from Dover to the French coast in Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly:
In a moment I was in the air, climbing steadily in a long circle. . . . In an instant I was beyond the cliffs and over the channel. . . . Then the quickening fog obscured my view. Calais was out of sight. I could not see ahead of me or at all below. There was only one thing for me to do and that was to keep my eyes fixed on my compass.
My hands were covered with long Scotch woolen gloves which gave me good protection from the cold and fog; but the machine was wet and my face was so covered with dampness that I had to push my goggles up on my forehead. I could not see through them. I was traveling at over a mile a minute. The distance straight across from Dover to Calais is only twenty-five miles, and I knew that land must be in sight if I could only get below the fog and see it. So I dropped from an altitude of about two thousand feet until I was half that height. The sunlight struck upon my face and my eyes lit upon the white and sandy shores of France.
Quimby’s daring flight helped earn her the epithet “America’s First Lady of the Air.” Tragically, less than three months after her historic flight, she died in a flying accident near Boston.