Amazing Woman: Lilian Bland

Next in the Amazing Woman series, I want to talk about someone who let their passions guide them to accomplishing several world first moments. Imagine, it’s the early 1900’s and we are part of the age of steam power and are starting to realize the potential of the gas engine. Massive steam ships cross the ocean. Zeppelins float across the sky.

It’s an age of discovery and today’s featured historical figure wanted to be right in the middle of it.

By Screenshot by uploadineditor, original photo uncrdited – Screenshot from Flight Iternational archive, http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1910/1910%20-%201027.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23984699

On to April’s Amazing Woman!

Everyone has heard of Amelia Earhart and her accomplishments in flight, but I guarantee you no one has heard of Lilian Bland. In short, Lilian Bland was the first woman to design, build, and fly her own airplane in 1910.

In this time period, hardly anyone had even seen a plane, let alone ridden in one. The Wright Brothers performed their first flight only seven years earlier in 1903. Amelia Earhart’s first solo flight across the Atlantic occurred in 1928.

Lilian’s story is nothing short of incredible. She became interested in flying after her uncle sent her a postcard of the Bleriot monoplane from Paris. With that picture, she studied the measurements and added her own thoughts to the design.

Her plane, the Mayfly, was built in her late uncle’s workshop after testing a series of models and prototypes. With each test she modified and improved the design until the plane was strong enough to lift four policemen. She reasoned that if it could lift four men, it could carry one English engine and then ordered one from A. V. Roe & Co.

A further demonstration of her passion is revealed when she wanted to test the Mayfly with it’s new engine before the petrol tank was ready so she improvised using an empty whiskey bottle and her deaf aunt’s ear trumpet.

By Uncredited(Life time: Uncredited) – “Flying in Ireland”, Flight. 18 February 1911. P. 139, PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41310208

The Mayfly’s first successful flight was on a hill in Randalstown in August of 1910. The controls consisted of a bicycle handle bar. The pilot, none other than Lilian Bland herself, sat in an open air canvas seat. This attempt resulted in an engine powered glide of about 30 feet. The Mayfly’s longest recorded flight was approximately 400 meters.

This flight made Lilian the first woman to fly an aircraft in Ireland and was also the first flight of a powered biplane in Ireland.

Seeing as flying airplanes in this time period was still extremely dangerous, Lilian’s father was extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of his daughter. He convinced her to give up flying by buying her a car. Turns out she loved cars almost as much as she loved planes and she ended up running her own car dealership by April 1911.

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Amazing Woman: Winifred, Countess of Nithsdale

In honor of St. Patrick’s day and the whimsical month of March, this month’s ‘Amazing Woman’ hails from Scotland.

Lady Winifred, Countess of Nithsdale

Winifred Maxwell, the Countess of Nithsdale (c. 1680-1749) met her husband, William Maxwell the 5th Earl of Nithsdale and a Catholic Nobelman at the French court.

At the time, Lady Winifred’s father, the 1st Marquess of Powis, was in exile and Winifred’s mother became the governess for James Francis Edward Stuart, the son of the late King James II of England (James VII of Scotland).

Lady Winifred met William Nithsdale while he was visiting France to pay his respects to the former King James II and were married soon after. They lived in Terregles, Dumfriesshire, Scotland.

Sixteen years into their marriage, William Nithsdale joined the famous Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. He was captured at the Battle of Preston and tried for treason and sentenced to death, which effectively landed him in the famous Tower Prison of London.

Winifred, now a mother of five, traveled to London and made a personal appeal to King George I to ask for clemency, but received none. On the night before William’s execution, she visited the prison with her maid and two friends and gave the guards a generous amount of drinking money. Inside the prison, she shaved off William’s beard and dressed him in woman’s clothing. She then proceeded to smuggle him out of the prison.

Smuggling William Nithsdale out of the Tower Prison

The cloak she used that night is still held by the family.

The couple hid in London until William could escape to France disguised as a servant of the Venetian Ambassador. Winifred then traveled to Scotland to manage her family’s estate. She eventually reunited with her husband at the exiled court of James Francis Edward Stuart – yes, that James, the son of King James II, the same man that Winifred’s mother had cared for as a child. This James Francis Edward Stuart came to be known as the Old Pretender and sought the British throne during the Jacobite Rebellion – yes, the same rebellion that sent William to his death for treason.

It sounds like the plot of a brilliant movie.

For being brave enough to risk her neck to save her husband and smuggle him out of prison dressed as a woman, Lady Winifred Maxwell is my Amazing Woman for the month of March.

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Updates

While this isn’t my first conference, I still love when I get shiny pictures to share. If you are in Northern Utah on April 27th this is a terrific conference for a great price. Head over to the League of Utah Writers webpage for more information.

I’ll be teaching “Helping Characters through Tough Transitions using the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle” at 5 PM.