FYI March 08, 2018


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On This Day

1910 – French aviator Raymonde de Laroche becomes the first woman to receive a pilot’s license.
Raymonde de Laroche (22 August 1882 – 18 July 1919), born Elise Raymonde Deroche, was a French pilot and the first woman in the world to receive an aeroplane pilot’s licence.

Early life
Born on 22 August 1882 in Paris, Elise Raymonde Deroche was the daughter of a plumber. She had a fondness for sports as a child, as well as for motorcycles and automobiles when she was older. As a young woman she became an actress and used the stage name “Raymonde de Laroche”. Inspired by Wilbur Wright’s 1908 demonstrations of powered flight in Paris and being personally acquainted with several aviators, including artist-turned-aviator Léon Delagrange, who was reputed to be the father of her son André, de Laroche determined to take up flying for herself.[1]:9–10

Achievements in aviation

In October 1909, de Laroche appealed to her friend, aviator and aeroplane builder Charles Voisin, to instruct her in how to fly. On 22 October 1909, de Laroche went to the Voisin brothers’ base of operations at Chalons, 90 miles (140 km) east of Paris. Voisin’s aircraft could seat only one person, so she operated the plane by herself while he stood on the ground and gave instructions. After she mastered taxiing around the airfield, she lifted off and flew 300 yards (270 m).[1]:11–13 De Laroche’s flight is often cited as the first by a woman in a powered heavier-than-air craft; there is evidence that two other women, P. Van Pottelsberghe and Thérèse Peltier, had flown the previous year with Henri Farman and Delagrange respectively as passengers but not as pilots.[2]

Decades later, aviation journalist Harry Harper wrote that until de Laroche made her celebrated flight on the Voisin, she had only flown once, for a short hop, as a passenger; when she first took the controls, Charles Voisin expressly forbade her to attempt a flight; and after taxiing twice across the airfield, she took off, flying “ten or fifteen feet high” and handling the controls with “cool, quick precision”.[3]

Although Gabriel Voisin wrote, “… my brother [was] entirely under her thumb”,[4] the story of de Laroche as a headstrong woman making the flight after scant preparation and against Voisin’s orders almost certainly romanticises what actually took place. Flight magazine, a week after the flight, reported: “For some time the Baroness has been taking lessons from M. Chateau, the Voisin instructor, at Chalons, and on Friday of last week she was able to take the wheel for the first time. This initial voyage into the air was only a very short one, and terra firma was regained after 300 yards (270 m).”[5] Flight was also responsible for bestowing the title “Baroness” upon de Laroche, as she was not of noble birth.[1]:9 Flight added that on the following day she circled the flying field twice, “the turnings being made with consummate ease. During this flight of about four miles (6 km) there was a strong gusty wind blowing, but after the first two turnings the Baroness said that it did not bother her, as she had the machine completely under control.”[5]

On 8 March 1910,[1]:14 de Laroche became the first woman in the world to receive a pilot licence when the Aero-Club of France issued her licence #36 of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (International Aeronautics Federation or F.A.I.).

De Laroche participated in aviation meetings at Heliopolis in Egypt as well as Saint Petersburg, Budapest and Rouen. During the show in St. Petersburg, she was personally congratulated by Tsar Nicholas II. There, she was presented once again as “Baroness” de Laroche. Thereafter, the title became commonly used.[1]:16

In July 1910, de Laroche was participating in the week-long airshow at Reims in France. On 8 July, her aeroplane crashed, and she suffered such severe injuries that her recovery was in doubt, but two years later, she was fit again and had returned to flying. On 26 September 1912, she and Charles Voisin were involved in a car crash. Voisin was killed, and she was severely injured.[6]

On 25 November 1913 de Laroche won the Aero-Club of France’s Femina Cup for a non-stop long-distance flight of over 4 hours duration.[7]

During World War I, as flying was considered too dangerous for women, she served as a military driver, chauffeuring officers from the rear zones to the front under fire.[1]:20

In June 1919 de Laroche set two women’s altitude records,[8] one at 15,700 feet (4,800 m); and also the women’s distance record, at 201 miles (323 km).[1]:21

Death and legacy

On 18 July 1919 de Laroche, who was a talented engineer, went to the airfield at Le Crotoy as part of her plan to become the first professional woman test pilot. She co-piloted an experimental aircraft (whether she flew this is not known); on its landing approach the aeroplane went into a dive and crashed, killing both de Laroche and the co-pilot.

There is a statue of de Laroche at Le Bourget Airport in France.

From 6 March to 12 March 2010, to celebrate the Centennial of Licensed Women Pilots, women pilots from eight countries on three continents used 20 types of aircraft to establish a new world record: 225 girls and women introduced to piloting by a woman pilot in one week.

Women Of Aviation Worldwide Week is held annually during the week including 8 March, which marks the anniversary of Raymonde de Laroche’s pilot licence and International Women’s Day, and aims to foster diversity in aviation by celebrating women’s history, raising awareness of aviation’s opportunities among girls and women, and shaping the future by introducing girls and women to aviation through industry-wide collaboration.


Born On This Day

1896 – Charlotte Whitton, Canadian journalist and politician, 46th Mayor of Ottawa (d. 1975)
Charlotte Elizabeth Whitton OC CBE (March 8, 1896 – January 25, 1975) was a Canadian feminist and mayor of Ottawa. She was the first woman mayor of a major city in Canada, serving from 1951 to 1956 and again from 1960 to 1964.

Career and accomplishments
Whitton attended Queen’s University, where she was the star of the women’s hockey team and was known as the fastest skater in the league.[citation needed] At Queen’s, she also served as editor of the Queen’s Journal newspaper in 1917; and was the newspaper’s first female editor. From Queen’s she became the founding director of the Canadian Council on Child Welfare from 1920 to 1941 (which became the Canadian Welfare Council, now the Canadian Council on Social Development) and helped bring about a wide array of new legislation to help children.

Despite her strong views on women’s equality, Whitton was a strong social conservative and did not support making divorce easier.

Whitton was elected to Ottawa’s Board of Control in 1951. Upon the unexpected death of mayor Grenville Goodwin that August, Whitton was immediately appointed acting mayor and on 30 September 1951 was confirmed by city council to remain mayor until the end of the normal three-year term. Whitton is sometimes mistakenly credited as the first woman ever to serve as a mayor in Canada,[2] but this distinction is in fact held by Barbara Hanley, who became mayor of the small Northern Ontario town of Webbwood in 1936.[3]

Whitton was a staunch defender of Canada’s traditions, and condemned Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson’s proposal in 1964 for new national flag to replace the traditional Canadian Red Ensign. Whitton dismissed Pearson’s design as a ‘white badge of surrender, waving three dying maple leaves’ which might as well be ‘three white feathers on a red background,’ a symbol of cowardice. ‘It is a poor observance of our first century as a nation if we run up a flag of surrender with three dying maple leaves on it,’ she said.[4][5] For Whitton, the Red Ensign, with its Union Jack and coat of arms containing symbols of England, Scotland, Ireland and France (or a similar flag with traditional symbols on it) would be a stronger embodiment of the Canadian achievement in peace and war.

She became well known for her assertiveness and for her vicious wit with which many male colleagues, and once the Lord Mayor of London, were attacked. She is noted for the quotation: “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”

In 1955 she appeared on the American game show and television series What’s My Line.[6]

In 1934, Whitton was named a Commander of the British Empire at the 1934 New Year Honours[7] and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1967.[8]

Accusations of racism

Whitton had many remarkable achievements but her story is framed by current controversy over some of her actions.

She has been accused in print of espousing, “a ‘scientific’ racism that viewed groups such as Jews and Armenians as ‘undesirable’ immigrants.” (Open Your Hearts: The Story of the Jewish War Orphans in Canada by Fraidie Martz)[9]

In 1938, she attended a conference in Ottawa to launch the Canadian National Committee on Refugees (CNCR). She showed opposition to some of the other attendees’ arguments. A common belief is that she was directly opposed to Jews and in particular Jewish children. Oscar Cohen of the Canadian Jewish Congress is reported to have said she “almost broke up the inaugural meeting of the congress on refugees by her insistent opposition and very apparent anti-Semitism.”[10] This sentiment is countered by the official record which includes notes from her presentation, including “lobby the government to initiate a long-term refugee program …” and an interest in protecting all at risk, “particularly Hebrews in the Reich and in Italy.”[11]

According to the Canadian Jewish Congress: “Certainly in the course of the Second World War and the Holocaust, she was instrumental in keeping Jewish orphans out of Canada because of her belief that Jews would not make good immigrants and were basically inferior.”[12]

As Mayor in 1964, she declined Bertram Loeb’s $500,000 donation to the City’s Ottawa Civic Hospital. The official rationale was that the city could not afford to keep the centre operating.[11] The sentiment exists that she “simply didn’t want the name of a Jewish family on an Ottawa hospital building.”.[10]

According to Patricia Rooke, Whitton was a “complete anglophile” who opposed all non-British immigration to Canada. “Charlotte Whitton was a racist,” according to Rooke. “Her anti-Semitism, I think, was the least of it. She was quite racist about the Ukrainians, for example. She really didn’t like the changing character of Canadian society.”[12]

In opposition to the anti-Semite argument, Whitton was well received by various Jewish organizations in her lifetime including B’nai B’rith and various Jewish-centred publications.[11] She was also a supporter of — and the first to sign the nomination papers of — the first Jewish Mayor of Ottawa, Lorry Greenberg.[11]

In 2011 Whitton’s name was kept off of a new Archives Building in Ottawa due to this controversy.[13]

Personal life
Whitton never married, but lived for years with her partner, Margaret Grier (1892 – December 9, 1947). Her relationship with Grier was not widespread public knowledge until 1999, 24 years after Whitton’s death, when the National Archives of Canada publicly released the last of her personal papers, including many intimate personal letters between Whitton and Grier. The release of these papers sparked much debate in the Canadian media about whether Whitton and Grier’s relationship could be characterized as lesbian, or merely as an emotionally intimate friendship between two unmarried women.[14] Grier died in 1947 and is buried at Thompson Hill Cemetery, Thompson Hill, Horton, Ontario, Canada. In 1975 Whitton was buried alongside her.


Whitton’s relationship with Grier was dramatized in a play called Molly’s Veil written by playwright Sharon Bajer.[15] Bajer was inspired to write the play after reading letters written between Whitton and Grier and used these as the basis for the play.[16] The play explores Whitton’s relationship with her partner Grier, portraying Whitton as a loving partner in a lesbian relationship and deals with the tension between Whitton’s private life and her public one.[17][18]

The Ontario Heritage Trust erected a plaque for Charlotte Elizabeth Whitton, O.C., C.B.E. 1896-1975 in the council chambers, city hall, 111 Sussex Drive, Ottawa. “A controversial fighter for social reform, Charlotte Whitton served on the Canadian Council on Child Welfare (later the Canadian Welfare Council) and on the League of Nations Social Questions Committee. In 1951, she was elected mayor of Ottawa.” [19]



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