Not only is this International Women’s Day, it’s a day to celebrate Elise Raymonde Deroche, also known as Baroness de Laroche. On this day in 1910, de Laroche was the first woman ever to receive a pilot’s license for an airplane.
Born in 1882 in France, she had an early passion for mechanical things, including motorcycles and cars, and took to the skies as a balloonist before the first planes came along. Her forthright manner and engineering knowledge resulted in others bestowing the title of “Baroness” to her; Baroness de Laroche took the name and flew with it, attending gatherings of aviators in places like Egypt, Hungary and Russia, where she flew in a challenging demonstration on a small aviation ground before the Czar and received his personal congratulations afterward.
“He asked what my feelings had been, and I was able to assure him that his presence in the first place, and the houses and the landing ground, which was only 30 meters wide, in the second, had brought my heart into my mouth,” she later told Colliers magazine.
Although she would later set world records in the air, she was grounded during World War I because the military believed flying was too risky for female pilots. Instead, she became a driver, often transporting officers to and from the battlefield front lines, a job that was only slightly less dangerous than flying.
After the war, de Laroche was again in her favorite place among the clouds as part of her new goal to become the first female test pilot. She died doing what she loved in 1919, when a training flight aboard an experimental craft crashed. Although she never fully realized her last goal, she still has a lofty place in aviation history and a statue in her honor at France’s Le Bourget Airport.