|Hilda Beatrice Hewlett (1864-1943)
Born in London in 1864 at the time of America’s Civil War, Hilda was one of nine children. Her father was a wealthy vicar in the Church of England, due to a previous inheritance. Raised and educated by a governess, Hilda discovered a talent for art and attended the National Art Training School in South Kensington. Some of her woodwork, metalwork and needlework were qualified enough for an exhibition. At 21, she trained as a nurse in Germany, but it’s not clear what she did with this knowledge.
In 1888, she married at 24 a young lawyer, Maurice Hewlett, and had two children. She was a short woman, but being short did not hold back her youthful exuberance for life. She took up bicycling and enjoyed going to automobile rallies, where in one event (1906), she rode in the back seat behind her friend, the only female racer entered.
In 1909, Hilda attended a meeting on aviation that sparked a lifelong interest in flying, although Maurice was less enthused. "Women will never be as successful in aviation as men,” he said. “They have not the right kind of nerve." That same year Hilda traveled to France under the pseudonym “Grace Bird” (she didn’t want to embarrass Maurice) to study aeronautics at the Mourmelon-leGrand aerodrome. She struck up a friendship with French aviation engineer Gustav Blondeau and the two formed a business partnership. When she returned to England she was the happy owner of a Farman III biplane, which she called “Blue Bird.”
|Hilda flying her Henri Farman III biplane, "Blue Bird"|
Omnia Works was started next by Hilda and Blondeau in 1914, but that same year, Hilda and Maurice also separated. The business was a huge success. More than 800 planes were built by Omnia Works during World War I. Hilda created quite the image as the company’s red-cheeked, tenacious female owner. She drove around in her car with Kroshka her dog sitting in the back seat, dressing as she pleased. Apparently, her clothes were a bit unusual by the day’s standards, as was her short hair style. Business thrived but died after the war. They tried building farm equipment but without success and had to close.
|Hilda with her dog, Kroshka|
|Omnia Works hired 700 employees|
|More than 800 planes were built|
Before Amelia: Women Pilots in the Early Days of Aviation, Eileen F. Lebow, Brassey's Inc., 2002
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilda_Hewlett; http://thethunderchild.com/YouFlyGirl/Pilots/HildaHewlett.html; http://www.uh.edu/engines/epi2667.htm