"A word on the spot is worth a cartload of recollections"
James Maggs, Southwold diarist 1797-1890

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Marie Marvingt, pt 1

Mlle Marie Marvingt at the controls of her Deperdussin airplane in 1912

Marie Marvingt (1875-1963) was a pilot, balloonist, athlete, mountaineer, inventor, nurse, and much more.

She was born on February 20, 1875, at Aurillac, France. Her father, Felix, a postmaster, strongly encouraged Marie to pursue sports. By the age of five she reportedly could swim 4,000 meters. In 1890, when she was 15, she canoed more than 400 kilometers from her home in Nancy, France, to Koblenz, Germany. She also competed in water polo, speed skating, luge, bobsledding, boxing, martial arts, fencing, shooting, tennis, golf, hockey, football, mountaineering, and also studied at the local circus learning rope work, the trapeze, horseback riding, and juggling. In 1899 she earned her driver’s license. Marvingt was just getting started.

Between 1903 and 1910 she was one of the first women to climb most of the peaks in the French and Swiss Alps. In 1905 she swam the length of the Seine River through Paris, won an international military shooting competition in 1907 and became the only woman to be awarded the palms du Premier Tireur (First Gunner palms) by a French Minister of War. She dominated the winter sports seasons in France between 1908 and 1910, collecting more than 20 first place victories, including the women’s world bobsledding championship in 1910. And to get a good look at a volcanic eruption, she cycled from Nancy, France to Naples, Italy.
When she was refused admission to the 1908 Tour de France because, after all, it was a man’s sport, she successfully completed the course on her own, covering more than 4000 km and traversing 8 mountain passes, while averaging more than 150 km per day. Only 36 of 114 male riders completed the course during the official race that year.
In March of 1910 the French Academy of Sports (Académie des Sports) awarded her a Gold Medal for all sports, the only multi-sport medal the Academy has ever awarded.
Looking for new challenges, Marvingt soon turned her attention to aviation, first with hot air balloons and later with fixed-wing aircraft. Her first balloon ride was in 1901, she piloted a balloon in July 1907 and soloed as a balloon pilot in September 1909. In October of that year she became the first women to pilot a balloon across the North Sea and English Channel to England. The Aero Club of France issued her a balloon pilot’s license in June 1910 and in November she became the third women in the world – the second in France -- to be licensed to fly fixed-wing aircraft. She was the first woman to solo in monoplane (single wing) aircraft, generally believed to be more difficult to fly safely.
In her first 900 flights she reportedly never “broke wood”, or damaged an aircraft, which was a remarkable feat. Among those who learned to fly prior to WWI, 87 percent are said to have died in aircraft accidents.
[During World War I, she impersonated a man in order to fight on the front lines as an infantryman. After being discovered, she became the first women to fly bombing missions over Germany and was decorated with the Croix de Guerre for bombing a German airbase. She also pioneered the use of airplanes as air ambulances.]
In addition to the many things Marvingt did to earn a living, including journalism, poetry, and hosting conferences, she was also a trained surgical nurse with the Red Cross and various hospitals.
Marvingt never slowed down. When she was 80 she earned her helicopter pilots license, and later flew over her home town in a US fighter jet, reportedly breaking the sound barrier.
Marvingt cycled across France at the age of 86.

Marie Marvingt's Wiki entry is here.

Émile Friant's 1914 drawing of Marie Marvingt and her proposed air ambulance

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