MARCH 3 - Today's post provided by Chasing Ray
When I was majoring in Aviation Management and learning to fly back in the late 1980s we used to joke about the pitiful number of female students there were in each course. In a class of twenty I was lucky to have two or three other girls enrolled with me. We all knew each other (how could we not) and we all knew we were completely outnumbered. We learned a lot about aviation history in many different classes but with the exception of Amelia Earhart (who honestly was most remembered for disappearing) we learned nothing about women in aviation history. If you asked that class of new college grads in 1990 to name the female pioneers of the air they all would have stared back blankly. We knew logically that from the earliest years women had flown airplanes and turned wrenches on them and probably even designed some of them but we didn't know any of their names and we certainly didn't know their stories.
I can't begin to tell you how much I'm still frustrated by how easy it was to be that ignorant.
|Dolly, circa 1910|
|Dolly hanging from her trapeze, July 1911|
Her bravest moment came in 1908 when a friend joined her on a dual jump. Her friend's cord jammed however and as the other girl could not get free, Dolly stayed with her beyond 11,000 feet. At that point, as it became clear her friend was going to pass out and thus fall to her death, Dolly pulled her close and they dropped together on the single parachute - the first tandem jump. Dolly landed on the bottom and was paralyzed at the age of twenty-one. A doctor decided to try a radical procedure and jolted her with electricity - it worked and eight weeks later she was back in the air.
Dolly's last jump was in 1912 when she decided she has pushed her luck enough. She wrote an autobiography of her exploits, WHEN THE 'CHUTE WENT UP, and her daughter followed a bit in her footsteps, jumping with the British Red Devils parachute team in 2004 to celebrate her mother's memory. Molly was eighty-four years old at the time. Like mother, like daughter for sure!
You can read about Dolly (and lots of other balloonists) in SKY SAILORS (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux 2010) by David Bristow - a recent title for young teens that includes many "true stories of the balloon era". I hope that someone writes an entire book about her someday and the other women who jumped along with her.