Aviatrix. She was the first American woman to get a pilot's license, the first woman to fly across the English Channel, and the first woman aviator to die at an aviation meet (at the time, she was the fourth woman to die in an airplane). Born May 11, 1875 in Kinderhook Township, Michigan, to William and Ursula Quimby, a farmer, when the family farm failed, they moved to Oakland, California, where Harriet briefly became an actress, and soon she began a second career, writing for the "San Francisco Bulletin" and other publications. About 1903, she moved to New York City, where she began writing for "Leslie's Illustrated Weekly," living independently, and later becoming a photojournalist. There were few men in her life, and she supported herself in an age that argued that a woman could not be successful without a man backing her. In 1906, she was given a ride in a racecar, and shortly after that, she purchased her own automobile, writing articles on how to maintain one. In 1910, she attended an International Aviation Tournament at the Belmont Race Track, and became friends with Matilde Moisant, whose brother operated an aviator school. Both women decided to enter the school to learn how to fly (the only other school in the country, operated by the Wright Brothers, did not accept women students). On August 1, 1911, she passed the tests, earning her Federation Aeronautique Internationale License (FAI #37), and thus becoming the first American woman to earn an Aviator's License. Known for her purple satin flying suit, she appeared at various air shows and fairs, including attending the International Aviators Exhibition in Mexico City, Mexico. Desiring to be the first woman to cross the English Channel, she made the trip on April 16, 1912, flying from Dover, England, to a beach near Hardelot, France (she missed her destination, Calais). Her achievement was quickly overshadowed by news of the loss of the RMS Titanic, and she did not achieve the fame she deserved. On July 1, 1912, she participated in the 3rd Annual Boston Aviation Meet near Quincy, Massachusetts, flying a new two-seat Bleriot monoplane. William Willard, the event organizer, went up with her, and at an altitude of 1500 feet the plane suddenly pitched, and both Willard and Quimby fell to their deaths (the plane was not equipped with seatbelts). At a time when women were universally thought to be less capable than men, she proved that women could successfully fly airplanes and live independently of men. In 1991, the United States Postal Service honored her by placing her on a 50-cent Airmail Stamp.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson