Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Before Amelia, there was Blanche

by Carmen Doyle

Everyone knows about Amelia Earhart, one of the first female aviators. But before Amelia became the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic, there was Blanche Stuart Scott. While Blanche did not cross the ocean, she was the first American woman to take a solo flight. 

Blanche made headlines before she ever entered a plane. In 1910, she became the first woman to drive across country. This was before there were interstate highways, so the trip took over three months. She stopped overnight in Fort Wayne, coming from Indianapolis on her way to Toledo. This was her first time in Fort Wayne, but it was not her last.

Her cross-country trip caught the attention of the head of the Curtiss Exhibition Company, and Blanche was asked if she would be interested in learning to fly and performing at air shows and exhibitions. Her instructor was Glenn Curtiss, who had made headlines as the first American after the Wright Brothers to learn to fly as well as the founder of the first airline company. Curtiss reluctantly agreed to train Blanche, and she became his first-and only-female student.

In August, Blanche became the first solo flight by an American woman. By September, she became America’s first aviatrix, and was ready to join the Curtiss Exhibition Company. In October, Blanche returned to Fort Wayne to display her skills as a pilot. Just because Blanche had learned to fly did not mean she had given up cars. One highlight of her two-day meet in Fort Wayne was to be a race between Blanche in her car and anther pilot in his plane. 

Blanche’s adventures in her car inspired several Fort Wayne women to join in the driving race that was to be a part of the event. The event took place at the Fort Wayne Driving Park, a one-mile oval track. The first day of the event, Blanche did not fly, on orders from Glenn Curtiss, who told her not to go up unless the weather was perfect. Despite disappointment at not being able to fly, Blanche still raced her car in an exhibition run. She won, although the track was so muddy from the rain in the morning that the race was not timed. Blanche boasted that her car was able to reach speeds of 55mph. 

The next day the weather was clear enough that Blanche was able to make a flight. Blanche’s plane flew across the field at a height of 12 feet. Her landing drew praise from the expert who was the big draw of the meet. There was a large crowd watching the event. Among the spectators eager to see Blanche and other aviators was Art Smith, who was in the process of building his own plane. A statue titled “The Spirit of Flight” in Memorial Park is dedicated to Art Smith. 

While Blanche Stuart Scott did not lend her name to anything in Fort Wayne, her contributions to Fort Wayne history, aviation history, and American history should not be forgotten.

For more information on Blanche Stuart Scott in this edition of the Old Fort News:

Blanche Stuart Scott: The First American Woman to Fly an Airplane Made History in Fort Wayne.  George R. Mather.  62:1, 1999, 12 pages.

To see more on Art Smith, come to the History Center and see the aviation display on the second floor and read the blog post http://historycenterfw.blogspot.com/2011/02/flying-high-in-fort-wayne.html.

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