Pioneering women. Skilled women. Fearless women. Strong women. Or, more simply, women. Hélène Dutrieu was all this and much more.
In this column dedicated to some of the most fascinating stories from the past, we often write about the lives of women who, although they may have stopped short of having super powers, really stood out in the world of aviation.
Belgian national Hélène Dutrieu, born in 1877, was also a successful cyclist. Let’s start from there.
Starting when she was a little girl, Hélène loved bikes. Thanks to her athletic physique and her competitive spirit, she soon became a professional cyclist for the Simpson Lever Chain team, the name of which was inspired by William Spears Simpson, who invented a revolutionary model of bicycle chains that at the time was advertised using illustrations by the painter Toulouse-Lautrec.
Between the end of the 1800s and the early years of the 1900s, she obtained so many records that she earned the nickname “La Flèche Humaine” (The Human Arrow). For a short time, she became an acrobatic cyclist in shows, but she wanted more.
Her incredible skills, which could be compared to those of a modern stunt performer, earned her the offer of piloting an ultralight Demoiselle Monoplane Type 19, designed by Alberto Santos-Dumont, the pioneer of Brazilian aviation. Although her first flight was unsuccessful, on 19th April 1910, Dutrieu performed the first flight by a woman with a passenger on board. An incredible event at that time.
On 25th November 1910, Dutrieu became the fourth woman in the world to obtain a pilot’s licence. Hélène earned her new nickname, the “Girl Hawk”. Her media success was quite the accolade: aviation was no longer restricted to men, but had become a field in which a woman could dream of becoming a “Hawk”.
When the air was no longer enough for her, Hélène also tried her hand at success in the water. In 1912, she became the first woman to pilot a seaplane. One year later, she was awarded the French Legion of Honour.
We’re wondering whether her story might merit a more in-depth discussion. If you’d like us to tell you more, please let us know by commenting on this post!