At the outset of my blogging career I wrote a couple of posts one on famous sisters – And The Best Friends of All Are Sisters and one on My Favourite Women Heroes.

Well staying on the subject of famous sisters, today I read  about Katherine and Marjorie Stinson.  Have you heard of these aviator pioneers?

Katherine Stinson

Katherine Stinson, the nineteen year old girl aviator preparing for her flight from Buffalo to Washington, D.C., in connection with the American Red Cross week

Katherine, the eldest was born in 1891, and had plans to study music in Europe and when she heard about stunt flying she determined that this was the way she could fund this ambition.  Barnstorming was a very dangerous occupation early in the 20th Century, but the best barnstormers could earn a thousand dollars in a good day provided they didn’t kill themselves.

By 1912 she’d located flying pioneer, Max Lillie and asked him to teach her to fly.  His response was – no way.  But she persuaded him to take her for a ride and finally convinced him to teach her.

Katherine at 21 became the only the fourth American woman to hold a pilot’s licence.  Next she took up exhibition flying billing herself as The Flying Schoolgirl.  Even though she was in reality 21 she looked to be about 16. Katherine was the first woman to become an airmail pilot and the first to fly a loop.  She flew in exhibitions not only in the US but was the first woman to fly inn China and Japan.  She was the first woman to fly the mail.

By this time she had given up dreams of being a concert pianist and instead considered herself a pilot.  In this is closely linked to Jean Batten the NZ woman aviator who too gave up her desire to be a concert pianist to become a flyer.

Marjorie Stinson

Marjorie Stinson, "only woman to whom a pilot's license has been granted by Army & Navy Committee of Aeronautics", in WWI"

Katherine‘s younger sister Marjorie, born in 1895 followed her example and also learned to fly.  She was the ninth American woman to hold a pilot’s licence.

Katherine and her mother formed the Stinson Aviation Company and after both her sister Marjorie and her brother gained their licenses the family moved to San Antonio and set up a flying school.   The school had to be closed when the US joined WWI the military banned civilian flying and the school had to be closed.

In 1915,   Marjorie  became the only woman in the U.S. Aviation Reserve Corps.  Then in 1916 she began training cadets from the Royal Canadian Flying Corps for service in WWI.  Her teaching methods earned her the nickname, “The Flying Schoolmarm.”

Katherine  tried to enlist as a pilot in the air force but without success and she eventually went to France as an ambulance driver.

After the war, Katherine went back to flying airmail for a short time,  but she contracted tuberculosis and had to give it up. She married a former WWI pilot  and they both did a little more flying but, in 1930, they both decided to quit.

She became a draftsman for the Army and studied architecture. She won prizes for her designs and she lived to the age of 86.

And Marjorie took to barnstorming around the country performing at county fairs and airports. She retired from flying in 1928 she became a draftsman for the  U.S. Navy’s Aeronautical Division. She retired from her job in 1945 and devoted the rest of her life to researching the history of aviation. She died in 1975 at the age of 80.

So two sisters who were very active in flying in the early days and of whom we have heard very little.  The Stinson Award was created in 1997 by the National Aviation Club (now part of NAA) to honor the accomplishments of these two pioneering women.

Read more about these and other notable women aviators at Women in Aviation

Note – photos via Wikipedia.

When sisters stand shoulder to shoulder,
who stands a chance against us?
Pam Brown

18 responses to “Sisters

  1. Good story, thanks. 🙂
    “Aim for the stars and you’ll reach the sky “


  2. The contributions to aviation by women are quite significant. There is a small airport here in Maimi, Florida about 20 miles west of me for small private planes -Amelia Earhart.


    • Truly amazing women – I keep using that adjective but what else can one say. And thanks for the PS. I have seen first day covers displayed in this way and they look impressive.


  3. PS There are about a dozen postage stamps with women and aviation theme. A few first day covers are not very expensive and make a delightful framed display for those so interested.


  4. No, I had never heard of these sisters. Thank you for sharing their stories. I love learning about the lives of the obscure or little know historical figures.


  5. Amazing story, Judith. I’m realizing how little I know about anything!


  6. Nice article! One little detail is not quite right, Katherine never was a draftsperson for the Army. For those interested i knowing more about Katherine, check out my book, “Katherine Stinson: The Flying Schoolgirl,” available from my website,

    Thanks for such a terrific post about the two sisters!


    • Thanks Debra – that little snippet came from a book I was reading. So thanks for putting me right. I shall comment on it in my next blog to put it right. I am just going over to your blog again to see what you are up to. 🙂


      • Sweet, Judith — I appreciate that. It is so interesting to me how easy it is for folks to “fall out of the public limelight.” In her heyday, Katherine Stinson was a household word. She did so many firsts, both for women and aviation. Charles Lindbergh said she was a better pilot than Amelia Earhart and I trust he was probably right.

        And the courage it took for these early aviators who, when they started, were going up in machines that were little more than modified box kites with engines and bicycle tires, what bravery. And the love Katherine had with flying coupled with her petite size and incredible skill, inspired hundreds of thousand of people to take up aviation all over the world.

        Because when this tiny woman got out of her plane, people would look at her, then look at the plane, then look at her, then look at the plane, and say to themselves, “If SHE can fly, I can fly.” Thanks again for giving her another chance to fly again, if only on the internet and in our imaginations!


  7. Great post — one small correction, Katherine was never a draftsperson for the Army. For those interested in finding out more about the sisters, check out my book, “Katherine Stinson: The Flying Schoolgirl,” available from my website,


  8. I had not heard of these sisters, but I found their story fascinating…thanks for sharing it! They were definitely in a “man’s world” and they were quite successful.


  9. Jackie Cangro

    Thanks so much for sharing the story of these women’s lives. I knew nothing of these women. It’s wonderful to keep sharing their stories so they aren’t lost to history. We hear so much about Amelia Earhart it’s easy to forget there were many other pioneering women aviators who had equally brave and exciting lives.


    • of course, here in NZ we hear about Jean Batten but I had never heard of these Stinson sisters until recently. And I love finding out more about the pioneering women. 🙂


  10. Pingback: Choose Your Friends | I choose how I will spend the rest of my life

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