Aviation series honors female pilot

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Although the “grandmother of aviation” was born in Alabama, she was instrumental in bringing planes to Texas, astronomy administrative associate Debra Winegarten said Wednesday.

Katherine Stinson was a pioneer in a field dominated by men, Winegarten said in a lecture Wednesday at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. The lecture, part of a series on aviation, coincides with an exhibit at the museum celebrating the centennial of the first successful flight in Texas. The flight marked the beginning of aviation in Texas.

“When the men wouldn’t teach her to do something, she taught herself,” Winegarten said. “She didn’t let that stop her, and I think that’s extraordinary.”

Stinson became the fourth woman to earn a pilot’s license in the United States in 1912 after first having trouble finding instruction because she was a woman. She earned the nickname “Flying Schoolgirl” when she began exhibition flying.

“Because she looked so young, she was billed as the schoolgirl who could outfly the men by her agent,” Winegarten said.

Stinson was the first woman to fly in China and Japan. When World War I broke out, she made a flying tour from Buffalo, N.Y., to Washington, D.C., to raise money for the American Red Cross. She raised over $3 million in one day for the organization, Winegarten said.

Max Lille, Stinson’s flight instructor, wanted to open a flight school in San Antonio because of its optimal weather. When Lille died, Stinson, along with her sister Marjorie, made his plans a reality.

Stinson drove ambulances for the Red Cross in Europe during World War I and eventually contracted tuberculosis in 1920, ending her aviation career, according to the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission.

School of Information professor Glynn Harmon said Stinson was a brave pioneer.

“In those days, there was considerable prejudice from both men and women against women being pilots,” he said.

Kate Betz, an education program developer at the museum, said Winegarten’s research on Stinson made her a natural choice to give the lecture on women in aviation.

Betz said the exhibit about Texas aviation has generated a lot of interest.

“We have a large community of aviators in Austin and the Central Texas area, and Texas has such a big part in aviation’s story,” Betz said.