From 1917 to 1928, Katherine Stinson was the nation's foremost daredevil stunt pilot. In 1912, she soloed after only four hours of instruction and became the fourth U.S. woman to earn a pilot's license.
An Alabama native, she and her mother, Emma, founded the Stinson Aviation Company in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1913. Later that year, the family moved to San Antonio to establish the Stinson School of Flying. Stinson Field still operates there. Her younger sister, Marjorie, and her two younger brothers also followed her in flying. At age 17, Marjorie Stinson became the youngest woman in the world at that time to receive a pilot's license.
Stinson, known as the "Flying Schoolgirl," toured the country, thrilling thousands of viewers at fairs with her daring stunts. In a plane she built, she became the first woman and fourth pilot in the U.S. to master the "loop the loop." In Los Angeles in 1915, she became history's first night skywriter, spelling out "CAL" with flares. That year she also flew the first airmail route in Texas, and was the first woman to serve in the U.S. Aviation Reserve Corps.
Stinson traveled to Japan and China for exhibition flights, dismantling her plane for her overseas trips and reassembling it upon arrival. In 1916, more than 25,000 people in Yokohama watched her sky write with fireworks, and Japanese women organized fan clubs, hailing her as their liberator. In 1917, she set a world long distance record by flying 610 miles from San Diego to San Francisco nonstop in nine hours and ten minutes.
During World War I, she volunteered for military duty twice but was rejected because she was a woman. She raised $2 million for the Red Cross through exhibition flights and served as a volunteer ambulance driver in France. She contracted tuberculosis there and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for her health. There she became an award-winning architect, designing apartments influenced by the local Pueblo and Spanish architecture.
Biography Source Information
Biographies are reprinted from the Foundation for Women’s Resources (now Women’s Resources), Dallas, Texas. They originally appeared in "From Gutsy Mavericks to Quiet Heroes: True Tales of Texas Women," video study guide, Austin: The Foundation for Women's Resources, 1997. Death dates have been added where needed.