Saturday, April 9, 2016

H is for Hilda Hewlett - Pioneer Women in Aviation: A-Z Challenge

Hilda Beatrice Hewlett (1864-1943)

Hilda Hewlett was among the oldest pioneer ladies to impact aviation. She was 47-years-old when she received her pilot’s license, but her contribution to aviation more than made up for her lost time in years.

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"
In 1910, she opened and ran a flying school with Blondeau, the first flying school in the UK. They called it Hewlett and Blondeau Flying School. Thirteen students graduated in the 1-1/2 years the school was operated, including her son, who went on to have a distinguished flying career in the UK and New Zealand. The school had a zero accident rate, which was incredible at the time. Hilda too graduated, becoming the first woman in the UK to receive a pilot’s license. She was 47. Meanwhile, Hilda entered some air shows and competitions, flying her new Henri Farman biplane. She won the quick-start aviation competition in 1912.







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
Hilda moved to Tauranga, New Zealand with her family in 1926, where she lived the remainder of her life in support of aviation. Her grandson Gail Hewlett later wrote a book about her life, The Irrepressible Mrs. Hilda Beatrice Hewlett (1999).


Sources:
http://www.scienceandsociety.co.uk/results.asp?image=10301886&wwwflag=2&imagepos=8
http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4h30/hewlett-hilda-beatrice
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

33 comments:

  1. Fascinating story. I was surprised to hear of her going to France to study, and wondered what she told her husband she was doing. Or if she told him the truth. It's not surprising that they separated. It sounds to me like she was a woman of independent means and did not need her husband's approval as to how to spend her money. Maui Jungalow

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    1. It does appear the marriage went downhill at this juncture. His remarks about aviation and women certainly didn't help! Her father was rich so maybe money came from an inheritance.

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  2. Lovely post Sharon thank you! A gal with guts and an independent spirit!

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    1. Her life choices came at a great cost but I admire all she did for her country. Her factory, which she personally ran, was a godsend to Britain in the war

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  3. Wonderful post for the letter "H" Sharon, so much hard work on your part for all the interesting women you are writing about. I congratulate you.
    Yvonne.

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    1. Thank you! I have a lot of catching up to do. Have not written most in advance!

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  4. "haven't got the right kind of nerve"? I guess she showed him!
    Fran
    @FranClarkAuthor
    Writing Women’s Fiction

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    1. Yeah, that's what I thought. Would have wrankled me a bit too!

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  5. I think the stories about women in aviation are just getting better and more interesting with each letter!

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  6. Great story. I'm really liking your theme. This kind of stories are not often told.

    @JazzFeathers
    The Old Shelter - Jazz Age Jazz

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    1. Yes. One reason I was interested too. Thanks for reading, Sarah.

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  7. Your entries are so interesting. I never knew of so many intrepid women.

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    1. I'm surprised as well. Thanks for commenting :)

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  8. I love hearing about these smart, brave women! Typical of a man to think a women doesn't have the right nerve. No, they just push 6-lb humans out an opening the size of a grape. Love to see men try it. But yay for Hilda and her wonderful adventurous life!

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    1. Good one Lexa. "push 6lb humans..." You'll never hear me making sexist remarks about womens' lack of anything...although there are...

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  9. They really were smart & brave.
    Ha-ha. Yes! Or try 10 lbs when my poor mother in law delivered my husband!!

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  10. "They have not the right kind of nerve"--that statement struck me, too. Maurice needed to meet some of the other women you've written about! Another great job. Enjoying these stories very much...

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    1. Maurice had a lot to learn about women. Thanks!

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  11. These women are amazing. They are so intrepid. I'm loving your posts...very well written.

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    1. Most I had never heard of before. Thank you!

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  12. When some men speak, I wonder if their brain is connected in any way to their mouth. Guess she showed him.

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    1. ha-ha. Well that may be true...but still love them :)

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  13. Hilda sounds like quite a woman, well ahead of her time! I'm glad she didn't let her husband's ridiculous ideas put her off!
    Debbie

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    1. the output of her factory was incredible!

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  14. It's so fun to look at old pictures, especially of people with their cars!

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    1. Loved that old car too. Really added to her image and gave a whole different perspective!

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  15. I'm not surprised the marriage didn't make it, and I love the pseudonym Hilda used. Grace Bird...perfect.

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    1. yes, that was nice wasn't it? I like "Blue Bird" for the biplane too. Now that's a plane I would have liked to try. Thanks David!

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  16. I can't even imagine going under a fake name just so I wouldn't embarrass my husband...how crazy!
    ~Katie
    TheCyborgMom

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  17. You know, I give her credit for trying to keep peace between them, but I get the feeling they were both too stubborn to make things work. A shame though Maurice had such a sexist viewpoint. Some men today still do! Thanks for commenting!

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  18. What an amazing woman who decided to have short hair before it became fashionable. She had her own business in an area that only men worked in.

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  19. Yes, so true. A rebel in her time and not afraid to try something new!

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