Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-B2-1234]
I don’t enjoy flying—well, actually sitting in an airplane while somebody else flies it is problematic. There’s something about hurtling through the air locked in a metal box that freaks me out. Call me crazy. So when I read about Katherine Stinson, who was clearly unafraid to fly, it duly impressed me. At 19, she became one of the first women in the United States to receive a pilot’s license. One year later, the Stinson family established the Stinson Municipal Airport and the Stinson School of Flying, where Katherine and her sister, Marjorie, opened a flying school, teaching their younger brothers and other local kids how to fly.
The “Flying Schoolgirl” rose to national prominence during exhibition flights across the United States. She was a real daredevil, the first woman to perform a loop and execute a snap roll at the top of the loop. She pioneered skywriting and set record after record for distance and duration.
In 1917, she organized a six-month tour of China and Japan to demonstrate flying. The Japanese gave her a new nickname, “Air Queen.” The following year, she became the first woman Air Mail pilot.
Then, in World War 1, the Stinson sisters petitioned the US government to join the Air Service as combat pilots, but the government declined their request. Marjorie Stinson took a job at the Navy’s department of aeronautical design, while Katherine made fundraising flights for the Red Cross and Liberty Loan bond drives. Her multi-stop fundraising flight from Rochester, New York, to Washington D.C. raised $2 million. She not only flew the plane, she became the only pilot ever to knit for the Red Cross while flying solo in an open cockpit airplane.
After being denied a second time to join the military, Katherine went to France on her own to serve as a volunteer ambulance driver for the Red Cross. Returning from Europe after the war, she contracted influenza and tuberculosis and retired. She was the first female pilot to fly a loop, the first female to fly for the US Mail Service, and the first female to fly in Canada and Japan.
In 1927, Stinson married ex-army pilot Miguel Antonio Otero, Jr., a district judge and son of the former territorial governor of New Mexico. She worked as an award-winning architect for many years in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Katherine Stinson died in 1977 at 86, 42 years before being inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.