As was the case for many young women born into middle-class families at the beginning of 1900s, Gabriella ‘Gaby’ Angelini had a piano teacher and attended a ballet school in Milan.
But she would dream of aeroplanes twirling in the clouds rather than a ballerina en pointe. She admired Francis Lombardi, a star of Italian aviation, rather than the legendary American dancer Isadora Duncan.
She made up her mind after visiting the Breda aeroplane factory, deciding to get her pilot’s licence at the Aero Club in Milan under the guidance of the instructor Francesco Monti.
When she was only 19, ‘Little Gaby’ rose to fame thanks to an extraordinary venture for that era, and especially for a woman of that era. Leaving Milan on board a Breda Ba. 15 light aircraft, in only 25 days she flew over eight European countries: Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and France.
In those years, the Fascist regime was encouraging pilots’ great ventures in order to gain international resonance. With Gaby being a woman, the reasons behind it were even more evident.
That’s how Angelini got the opportunity to leave for a new incredible trip, this time from Milan to Delhi, flying over Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Pakistan. Luck was not, however, on her side and her aircraft came down in Libya due to a sandstorm.
A couple of years after her death, Benito Mussolini refused entry to any women in flight schools, reminding the Prefect of Bologna in a telegram that ‘in Fascist Italy, women were already required to pilot many children, whereas piloting aircrafts was a serious business for which there were already enough men’ (source: Wikipedia).
Sadly, Gabriella Angelini’s story is very unfair. In our ‘Herstories’ column, we have chosen to tell stories about the victories and achievements, but also the failures and sacrifices women have made to change the future of aviation.
If you want to delve into Gaby’s story and look at the sky through her eyes, you can still find a few copies of Il Diario di Gaby (Gaby’s Diary) online, published by Mondadori in 1933.