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Military museum to highlight aviation pioneer Harriet Quimby

By: Brendan Losinski | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published January 10, 2020

 The Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society will host a presentation by the Historical Society of Michigan on Harriet Quimby, a Michigan native who was an aviation pioneer.

The Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society will host a presentation by the Historical Society of Michigan on Harriet Quimby, a Michigan native who was an aviation pioneer.

Photo provided by Robert Myers

 Harriet Quimby was a renowned reporter, world traveler and aviator in the early 20th century. She will be the subject of a presentation at the Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society on Sunday, Jan. 19.

Harriet Quimby was a renowned reporter, world traveler and aviator in the early 20th century. She will be the subject of a presentation at the Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society on Sunday, Jan. 19.

Photo provided by Robert Myers

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EASTPOINTE — The Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society is offering the public the chance to hear about a Michigan native who was one of the country’s first aviation pioneers.

The presentation will discuss the life of Harriet Quimby, the first female aviator licensed in the United States. The program will be led by Robert Myers, the director of education for the Historical Society of Michigan.

“Robert Myers is a guest speaker. He is from the Historical Society of Michigan’s speakers bureau. We approached him about doing a presentation about Harriet Quimby. It was a presentation the organization had done before and we liked it,” said Chris Causley, president of the Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society. “It’s definitely interesting. We always talk about early flyers like the Wright brothers, but it always seems male-dominated and here is a very early female aviation pioneer.”

The presentation will take place at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19, at the Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society Museum located at 16600 Stephens Road. More information can be found at www.mimths.org. The staff asks for donations to the museum in lieu of admission.

Myers said he has always been interested in Quimby, and that diving into her story made him realize just how exceptional a person she was.

“I’ve always been an aviation history nut,” Myers said. “I had heard of Harriet Quimby, as most aviation enthusiasts have, but I started looking into her history more and more and how she led an amazing life beyond aviation. She was someone breaking barriers for people, especially in regard to women.”

The hourlong presentation will be followed by a question-and-answer session. Myers said that Quimby is an especially fun subject to study considering she was born in Michigan.

“It’s a PowerPoint presentation about Harriet Quimby, who was born in Arcadia, Michigan, near Ludington, and grew up in Michigan,” he said. “She was born in 1875 and moved with her family out to California and had a remarkable career as a writer for newspapers and magazines. She traveled all over the world as a reporter. She tried her hand as a stage actress and writer for movies when they began in the early 1900s. She moved to New York City as a single woman and lived in one of the big hotels there.”

He went on to say that Quimby found fame after her adventurous life led to her taking control of some of the world’s first aircraft.

“At one point she was assigned to cover one of the early auto races; she was so taken with it, she learned to drive. This was rare for men, but especially rare for women,” Myers explained. “After that, she was assigned to cover an early aviation meet. She learned to fly as a result and became the first licensed female pilot in America. She was sort of a forerunner of Amelia Earhart. Quimby had even flew over the English Channel and was the first woman to do so. Unfortunately, her channel flight came the day before the Titanic went down so she didn’t get any newspaper headlines for it.”

Myers added that the presentation will cover her entire life, including her tragic death.

“She would later join the airshow circuit at a time when most people hadn’t even seen an airplane,” he said. “To draw people in, they had to do more and more and continuously push how fast or how far they could go. Unfortunately, something went wrong and she and her passenger were thrown from the airplane and killed.”

Causley said the presentation is a chance for the museum to stretch its interests beyond its usual focus of military history in a way that he thinks will fascinate a lot of people.

“It’s something a little different,” he said. “I had never heard of her before I came across the presentation. It’s a little outside of our usual focus on military history, but she has a Michigan connection, so we wanted to highlight her to bring some new information to people.”

He added that the Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society always tries to find new and exciting topics to draw people in and thinks that Quimby is a great way to do exactly that.

“This is the first time we have used someone officially here on behalf of the Michigan Historical Society’s speakers bureau,” Causley said. “I’ve heard Mr. Myers speak before in the past. It’s an audio and visual presentation, and we like to bring historical education to the area so people can learn about our past and find out why we are how we are.”

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