Marie Marvingt: The Bride of Danger

Black and white historical photo of Marie Marvingt, a pioneering aviator, standing beside an early model airplane. She is dressed in a leather flight jacket and skirt, with a cloth cap and goggles on her head, posing with one hand on the aircraft, conveying a sense of adventure and determination. The setting appears to be an open field, indicative of early aviation grounds.
Marie Marvingt

The French called Marie Marvingt “The Bride of Danger.” They also said she was the greatest female athlete in the world. It was arguable, of course. Yet, they certainly had a point. Marie excelled in swimming, cycling, mountain climbing, ballooning, flying, riding, gymnastics, athletics, fencing, and others, setting many firsts and many records amongst them.

Born in 1875 in Aurillac, France, Marie found love in sport through her father. Even in her early years, she’d go with him on adventures into the countryside or on mountain climbs. “As a little girl, my father turned me into his enthusiastic companion and the two of us spent his vacations mountain climbing together. I followed him with lighthearted eagerness wherever he agreed to take me.” Marie’s father challenged his daughter, pushing her to keep up with him and constantly encouraging her to improve.

Growing up in such an environment, Marie lived unafraid. Just as her father encouraged, Marie constantly challenged herself. In school, kids called her “Daredevil Marie.”

By her adult years, Marie was becoming a sports star. She set records in multiple sports and often was the first woman to accomplish some new feat in a sport. As one man remarked about Marie, “There is surely no other woman in the world with the athletic credentials of Marie Marvingt, and I wouldn’t like to bet there is even a man who has done as well.”

But sport was just one part of Marie’s life. Marie also took up aviation. First, she became a balloon pilot and, soon after, an airplane pilot. These skills became important in helping France during World War I.

When the War began, Marie wanted to contribute to her country. She first dressed as a man to serve in the French Army. A few weeks later, she was discovered and sent home. Still committed to contributing to the war effort, Marie took on a role as a pilot, flying over Germany in bombing campaigns. This work made her one of the first female pilots to participate in combat missions.

Arguably, though, Marie’s most significant contribution to the world was making airplanes an important part of medical care. “If we have given wings to the world, we have the obligation to ensure that they are the wings of the dove of peace,” Marie would say. She advocated for creating airplane ambulances, presenting her ideas in thousands of conferences and seminars, and helping to establish civil air ambulance services in various countries around the world.

Marie passed away in 1963.


Click here to read a snapshot biography of aviator Bessie Coleman.

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