In the Revolution, there were many women who assisted the army directly, such as the story of Betsy Ross and the flag. Deborah Sampson, of Middleboro MA, however, was, at 22, the first woman to successfully pass herself to army recruiters as a male. After being found out and ejected form the army on her first try, she travelled 75 miles to Worcester and tried again, this time successfully. Sampson served from May, 1782 and was wounded in a skirmish, but her gender identity was not discovered. She was hospitalized in the summer of 1783 with the ‘fever’ (perhaps yellow fever) and there her identity discovered. In November of 1783, at the end of the War, she was honorably discharged from the army. She then married, had 3 children, and later lectured on her experiences all over the country.
One of the most celebrated of the stagecoach drivers in the 1850s and ‘60s West was one ‘Charley’ Parkhurst. Charlotte was born in Lebanon NH in 1812 and was abandoned by her parents when a child. Escaping from an orphanage in boy’s clothes, Charley got a job as a stablehand. She moved to California in the Gold Rush of the 1850s and drove a stagecoach for two decades. Charley bought a farm in the Santa Cruz area and worked with horses, occasionally finding work as a lumberjack in the winter. “He’ was also known as ‘One-eye Charley’ or ‘Cockeyed Charley’. Charley is said to have been the first woman to have voted for President, in 1868. When ‘Charley’ died in 1880, it was discovered that ‘he’ was really Charlotte. The cause of death was said to be from cancer or rheumatism and she is buried in Watsonville CA.
Wilbur Wright was in France in 1909 demonstrating the Wright brothers’ plane in order to get a military contract. He was soon a celebrity and in the fall was encouraged to go to southern France and continue to fly. He asked his younger sister Katherine, a schoolteacher, to give up her teaching job at a Dayton OH high school and come to France and join him and their brother, Orville, amidst royalty and millionaires.
While the brothers were both quite shy people, Katharine was outgoing and charming and added to the family’s fame in Europe. After she arrived and to the amazement of the crowds, Wilbur asked her to accompany him into the sky. She accepted and became the first woman to fly. The second time she flew with Wilbur, King Edward VII was among the onlookers. Katharine managed to charm the royalty, become reasonably fluent in French, and people in Paris would follow along as she went on shopping trips. When the French government nominated them, for their Legion of Honor, Katharine received it, along with her two brothers.
Harriet Quimby and Matilde Moisant
The first woman to obtain a pilot’s license was a Michigan woman, Harriet Quimby. She was a columnist for a New York magazine for many years. She wrote articles on self-help for women, as well as the occasional theater review. In 1910, she attended a Long Island air show and met Matilde Moisant, the daughter of a French-Canadian couple.
Matilde’s brother, Alfred, was the owner of a flying school and, as the two women’s friendship blossomed, they decided they wanted to be pilots. Alfred agreed to train them and Harriet received her certification from the Aero Club of America on August 1, 1911. Matilde became the second female pilot seventeen days later.
Both women began to compete in races and exhibitions. Matilde broke the height record at 1200 feet, while Harriet became the first woman to fly over Mexico City. She then became the first woman to fly across the English Channel in April, 1912. Her career as a pilot lasted only about a year, as she was killed along with a male passenger a few months later off Boston, when her plane stalled and dove into the sea. Matilde had been injured in a crash in Texas a short time before Harriet died, and the news about her friend resulted in her deciding not to fly a plane again.