Cover image for Before Amelia : women pilots in the early days of aviation
Before Amelia : women pilots in the early days of aviation
Lebow, Eileen F.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : Brassey's, Inc., [2002]

Physical Description:
xi, 315 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TL539 .L42 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Before Amelia is the remarkable story of the world's women pioneer aviators who braved the skies during the early days of flight. While most books have only examined the women aviators of a single country, Eileen Lebow looks at an international spectrum of pilots and their influence on each other. The story begins with Raymonde de Laroche, a French woman, who became the first licensed female pilot in 1909. De Laroche, Lydia Zvereva, Melli Beese, Hilda Hewlitt, Harriet Quimby, and the other women pilots profiled here rose above contemporary gender stereotypes and proved their ability to fly the temperamental heavier-than-air contraptions of the day. Lebow provides excellent descriptions of the dangers and challenges of early flight. Crashes and broken bones were common, and many of the pioneers lost their lives. But these women were adventurers at heart. In an era when women's professional options were severely limited and the mere sight of ladies wearing pants caused a sensation, these women succeeded as pilots, flight instructors, airplane designers, stunt performers, and promoters. This book fills a large void in the history of the first two decades of flight.

Author Notes

Eileen F. Lebow is an author and former teacher

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The "early days" of the subtitle are those before 1914, and the number of women who flew then, some without actual licenses, runs well into three figures. The first to fly and get a license was French: Raymonde de Laroche. She had numerous compatriots, though, not least the amazing, long-lived Marie Marvingt. Harriet Quimby was first-with-license in the U.S., but she was killed less than a year afterward; Ruth Law and the Stinson sisters lasted longer and flew farther in the U.S. Hilda Hewlett was not only the first Englishwoman to fly; she and the German Milli Beese were the first women to run aircraft factories, which Beese, however, managed with the handicap of marriage to a Frenchman. There were Russians, Italians, Scandinavians, Austrians, Hungarians, and many others who demolished taboos, records, airplanes, and occasionally themselves with pioneering aplomb. Alas, that World War I and its plethora of higher-tech planes and male pilots befell these unsung pioneers, whose story belongs in every adult aviation and women's studies collection. --Roland Green

Library Journal Review

In the early days of aviation, the Wright Brothers refused to sell their airplanes to women because, in their opinion, women lacked the requisite "coolness and judgment" to fly. Despite such obstacles, a number of women in the first decades of flying managed to become accomplished pilots and to play various other roles in aviation. Lebow's book surveys the careers of these remarkable women, both in the United States and internationally. She looks at women such as Hilda Hewlett of England, who was not only a pilot but cofounded England's first aviation school in 1910 and produced her own line of aircraft. Lebow (A Grandstand Seat: The American Balloon Service in World War I) is an accomplished writer particularly adept at doing archival and historical research and then bringing it to life. Much of the attention in the area of women in aviation has gone to later figures, like Amelia Earhart, while the earlier pioneers of the pre-World War I era have been largely overlooked. Lebow's well-researched book fills that gap. It is engaging to read, with useful chapter notes and ample illustrations. Highly recommended for women's studies and aviation history collections. Charles Cowling, SUNY at Brockport Lib. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Lebow, author of other books on early flight and ballooning in WW I, has compiled a useful compendium of biographies about women aviators. Focusing on the careers of women who were well-known aviatrixes during the colorful era before WW I, she includes complete chapters on well-known American pioneers such as Margaret and Katherine Stinson and Ruth Law. What makes this book interesting are Lebow's sketches of less-prominent Americans who were active fliers and--more important--profiles of women from nine other countries. All told, the book refers to some five-dozen female aviators. Their stories form an impressive chronicle about women who cracked the barriers of sexism and prewar social strictures. Lebow includes some information about their subsequent activities, since many of her subjects survived into the 1960s and 1970s, but substantive information about their postaeronautical lives and careers is sparse and disappointing. There is a discursive "notes on sources" and a usable bibliography. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. General readers; lower- and upper-division undergraduates. R. E. Bilstein emeritus, University of Houston--Clear Lake

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
1 In the Beginningp. 1
2 L'Aeroplane est la!p. 8
3 Vive les Femmes!p. 46
4 den Tragodien unseres Berufesp. 56
5 The Imperial Eagle Sprouts New Wingsp. 90
6 The English Catch the Bugp. 101
7 America Gets Wingsp. 131
8 Official Birdp. 145
9 A Second Bird Takes to the Airp. 164
10 Star Qualityp. 179
11 Superstar IIp. 201
12 Little Sisterp. 225
13 More Rare Birdsp. 249
14 The Challenge Is Therep. 273
Appendix The Fliersp. 277
Notes on Sourcesp. 281
Bibliographyp. 295
Indexp. 303
About the Authorp. 315