Making history from the passenger seat

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Women have made history not only as airplane pilots, but also as voluntary passengers. Would you be brave enough to fly on an airplane when it was a relatively new invention? Discover three of these stories of women.

Therese Peltier

Before flying a plane herself, Thérèse Peltier made history by becoming the first woman to fly as a passenger. (Smithsonian Institution)

Thérèse Peltier, a talented sculptor, became the first woman to fly as a passenger in an airplane heavier than air (as opposed to an airplane lighter than air like a balloon). On July 8, 1908, she made a 200-meter (656-foot) flight with Léon Delagrange in Milan, Italy. She subsequently performed several solo flights in a Voisin biplane but did not pursue a career as a pilot. On her flight to Turin’s Military Square, she flew for two minutes and traveled a distance of 656 feet (200 meters) at an elevation of seven feet.

Edith Berg

Edith Berg flies next to Wilbur Wright. Notice her skirt tied with cords under the knees. (Smithsonian Institution)

Edith Berg watched Wilbur Wright demonstrate the Wright Flyer at Le Mans, France. She was so excited about the performance that she asked Wright for a ride. So, in October 1908, she became the first American woman to fly as a passenger in an airplane, soaring for two minutes and seven seconds. Sitting in the right seat of the plane, she tied a rope securely around her skirt at her ankles to keep it from blowing in the wind during the flight. A French fashion designer observing the flight was impressed with the way Berg stepped away from the plane with her skirt still tied. Berg was then credited with having inspired the famous “Hobble Skirt” fashion.

Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart is best known for the records she set as a pilot, but she also made history as a transatlantic passenger. (Smithsonian Institution)

Amelia Earhart is best known for the records she set as a pilot and her mysterious disappearance. However, it too made history from the passenger seat. In 1928, she was the first woman to be a passenger on a transatlantic flight. Amy Phipps Guest owned the Fokker F.VII Friendship and wanted to make the flight, but when her family objected, she asked aviator Richard Byrd and publisher / publicist George Putnam to find “the right guy. girl “for the trip. On June 17, 1928, Earhart and pilots Wilmer Stultz and Lou Gordon left Trepassey, Newfoundland, and although she was promised time at the controls of the three-engine, she never had the opportunity to pilot the ‘plane during the 20 hour 40 minute flight to Burry Point, Wales. She took the pilot’s seat for a while on the last jump to Southampton, England. The spectacular flight of 1928 earned him international attention and the opportunity to make a living in aviation. When she then crossed the Atlantic solo, her previous flight also made her the first person to cross the Atlantic twice by plane.


This content was migrated from an earlier online exhibit, Women in Aviation and Space History, which shared the stories of women on display at the Museum in the early 2000s.


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