|Blanch Stuart Scott (1885-1970)|
In 1898, there was no minimum age requirement in Rochester for driving an automobile, nor was it required a driver have a license. “Betty,” as she was called, was passionate about machines, automobiles in particular. It was only a matter of time before this passion would transfer to another great machine, those fabulous flying machines of the air.
Blanche Stuart Scott was born in Rochester, NY to John and Belle Scott in 1885. John made a good living selling patent medicine, enough to indulge their only child Betty. As a teen, Betty proved to be sports-minded. She competed in ice-skating and loved doing tricks on her bicycle. Considered a “tomboy” by the family, perhaps out-of-control was more like it, Betty’s mother decided to send her to a New England finishing school when John died in 1903.
Flash forward to seven years later in 1910. Betty was 25 and her passion for the “horseless carriage” had not changed. Scanning the want ads one day, she learned that the Willys-Overland Company was sponsoring a cross-country trip by automobile from New York to San Francisco to promote their 25 hp Willys-Overland automobile. Betty wrote the company’s president and proposed a deal. She would drive his car (one he provided) across country as a publicity stunt and make a record for women. The president agreed the publicity would be great. The car would be called "Lady Overland." A newspaper woman would travel with her.
The journey began and after dealing with flat tires, driving over potholes, dodging rabbits, gophers, horses and cattle, and getting lost when maps failed, Betty completed the 5,393 mile route (only 220 miles were paved) in 67 days. She became the first woman in the U.S. to travel across country by automobile.
Betty preparing to leave New York. Notice the onlookers are all male.
On side of car it reads: “The Car The Girl And The Wide Wide World"
|Betty learning to fly. Instructor Glenn Curtiss on left|
|Betty at the wheel|
|How a Curtiss aircraft (pusher type) looked in the air|
Curtiss had inserted a block of wood behind the throttle pedal to keep the plane from gaining speed and lifting off, but something went wrong. The wood must have slipped out. A gust of wind suddenly lifted the plane and Betty took off soaring, flying for 20 feet, forty feet high. The unplanned lift off made Betty the first woman to solo in an airplane in the U.S. However the record was (and still is) contested. Bessica Raiche made an "intentional" flight ten days later (September 16) and is credited by the Aeronautical Society of America (see post here) as the first woman to fly solo. Whereas Betty's flight is credited by Early birds of Aviation.
Commenting years later on her solo flight, Blanche said:
"I learned in two days. . . .The technique was for the instructor to wave 'goodbye' and God bless you' and you were on your way. They had you cutting grass--flying just above the ground--which we know today is very dangerous."
Betty started flying professionally for the Curtiss exhibition team. At Fort Wayne, IN she became the first woman to fly at a public event in the U.S., as the first stunt pilot as well. She learned how to thrill the crowds, doing nose dives and flying upside down, and was promoted as "The Tomboy of the Air." She dropped out of aviation for awhile to marry a Mr. Stuart (first name not given) in 1910, but returned in 1911 and broke a long distance record for women, flying nonstop 60 miles from Mineola, NY.
In 1912, she became a test pilot (another first for women), hiring on with Glenn Martin, a well-known airplane designer and builder. She made a lot of money working for him, as the work was considered quite dangerous, up to $5000 a week, which was a lot of money then.
In 1916, Betty retired from aviation, feeling she had survived her share of accidents and crash landings. She was 30. Incredibly, she had flown for seven years without a pilot's license. She went on to work as a movie producer in silent film. Divorcing her first husband some time after, she married another, who then died. She wrote comedy dialogue as a script writer for fourteen years in Hollywood. Then, returning to Rochester, NY to help her ailing mother, she became a radio broadcaster, developing the popular show, "Rambling with Roberta. Lastly, in 1954, she took a position with The United States Air Force Museum to obtain materials and promote the museum, traveling the world, during which time she made guest appearances on radio and TV and shared her adventures and the early days of aviation. She had come full circle.
--1948: 1st woman to fly in a jet - in a TF-80C with Chuck Yeager, who did snap rolls and a 14,000 foot dive to impress her.
--1980: U.S. Postal Service honored her with a stamp, honoring her achievements in aviation