Photo from Edith Dodd Culver's The Day The Airmail Began
Katherine Stinson was the 4th woman in the United States to obtain a pilot's license, July 24, 1912. She learned to fly at Max Lillie's Flying School at Cicero Field, Chicago.
On July 18, 1915, at this same field, she became the first woman in the world to loop-the-loop.
In 1912, I saw Katherine Stinson, a young girl in short skirts (which meant something in those days,) and a little tam-o'-shanter, taking her first flying lesson with Max Lillie, who had a B-Wright school on the field. She later became the world's best-known woman pilot, touring the world with her Laird biplane (made by Matty Laird, originally one of my model airplane boys) and also the first to fly with "jet-propulsion."
Katherine used to fit Roman candles on the wings of her airplane, when she made exhibition flights at state fairs. In many of the exhibitions at night, she would come down after the fireworks display in the middle of a half-mile track with only a burning tar barrel to indicate where and how she was to land.
In all her career, so far as I know, she never had an accident. It is said she taught Eddie Stinson to fly, and later her sister Marjorie. All three of them were excellent pilots---none better in his day that Eddie Stinson. Katherine is now the sedate wife of a Santa Fe Judge, and hard to picture as an early stunt flyer.
To Walter Lees, whose skill and quick thinking saved the day
--- and him too.,
Sincerely, Bill Stout, Nov. 1952
Women , too, went on the exhibition circuit, and their sex lent added attraction to the shows. As well known as that of any man were the names of Matilde Moisant, whose brothers pioneered the barnstorming tour, and of Harriet Quimby, her frequent teammate and the first woman in America to receive a pilot's license. The first solo flight by a woman is credited to Blance Stuart Scott--described as "an attractive and well-built aviatrix"--of Rochester, New York, made on a Curtiss-type machine on September 2, 1910. Bessica Raîche, whose husband François was the builder of an experimental biplane for the Aeronautical Society of New York, is also reported to have flown in September 1910. Others who became licensed pilots, and, especially after 1914, achieved a permanent place in the records of the pioneers were Katherine Stinson, who used a Wright biplane and motor to gain a certificate on July 12, 1912 and Ruth Law, who took hers on November 12, 1912, with a Curtiss biplane and motor. Both of these were star exhibition flyers.
"WHEN FAIR FOLKS FLY." Sunday, August 3, 1919
When the Norfolk papers reported that the drawing card of the State Fair at Richmond would be the daring woman pilot, Katherine Stinson, we decided we wanted to see her, so on a warm day in the fall of 1916, Paul and I boarded an old stern-wheeler steamboat and took a leisurely all-day trip up the James River to Richmond. That night we went out to the State Fair Grounds. Across the racetrack from the grandstand we could see an airplane silhouetted against the night sky by the light of a bonfire.
Using Paul's Curtiss credentials and pilot's license, we were allowed to enter the grounds and to pick our way across the field through the darkness to where Katherine and her mechanic, Shorty Schroeder were preparing for her flight. Paul introduced himself and me. It seemed that the fact that Paul was one of Capt. Baldwin's boys was all the credentials we needed.
Katherine Stinson was a surprise to me. I suppose I expected her to be mannish. Instead, she was something quite the opposite, fragile and dainty. Her friendliness and soft refined voice masked unbounded endurance and courage. She was a brunette version of Mary Pickford with long chestnut curls fringing her checkered cap. She was definitely feminine. She was America's sweetheart of the airways at that time as surely as Mary Pickford was America's sweetheart of the silent screen.
She appeared perfectly calm as she and her mechanic checked over the plane, revved up the motor to be sure it was running properly and making sure that the magnesium flares which were attached to the edge of the lower wings were secure. She could well feel confidence in her capable mechanic because he was none other than Rudolph "Shorty" Schroeder who was later to become one of America's most well known aviators. Katherine had discovered this tall gangling 6 foot 4 inch mechanic in Chicago when she needed someone to keep her airplane in good shape, and she was fortunate enough to be able to persuade him to be a part of her team. He was all business as he tested wires, controls, etc. Soon a megaphone announced that the great aviatrix, Katherine Stinson, would make a daring night flight above the field, executing the difficult figure eight maneuver. She took her place in the open cockpit, strapped her safety belt, pushed the visor of her checkered cap around, tucked her curls up into it to keep them out of her eyes; Shorty spun the wooden propeller with one swing to start the motor and signalled Katherine away. She opened the throttle, taxied to the end of the race track, and the next thing we knew she was in the air. We followed her maneuvers by the lighted flares which drew luminous figure eights against the dark sky as she circled above the race track. The crowd watched, spellbound. After about ten minutes she came in for a landing. Cutting her motor was a signal to those tending the bonfires placed at intervals along the edge of the runway, to throw a small can of gasoline on their fires so they would flare up simultaneously to give light to guide her in. She made a perfect landing and taxied her plane over to where Shorty was waiting. Afterwards, we were to sit around the camp-fire and talk about flying until the dying embers reminded us that it was time for Shorty to stake the plane down, swathe the engine in canvas, and then for all of us to go to the hotel fora a good night's rest.
Our pleasant encounter with Katherine led to a friendship that we resumed at the Early Bird meetings and later when she gave up flying altogether for a domestic role, becoming Mrs. Michael Otero of Santa Fe, New Mexico. She had a remarkable flying career that took her all over the United States and the Orient where she was feted and showered with trophies and gifts. She even flew the United States mail for a period. She had done it all --- a true pioneer.
Cub Flyers Enterprises Inc.
I had the great pleasure to meet and know "Aunt Teed"
as she remained a friend of Loa Lees and the family till her death.
Her book is a treasury of her memories of the early days.