Women in Transportation History – Marie Marvingt, Pilot, Cyclist, Canoeist

In 1910, transportation pioneer Marie Marvingt was formally recognized by the French Academy of Sports for her wide range of accomplishments in sporting activities. The gold medal that was presented to Marvingt on this occasion would be the only one ever given by the academy for more than one sport.

“Swimming, cycling, mountain climbing, ballooning, flying, riding, gymnastics, athletics, fencing – there is not a single sport in which she does not shine,” noted Forest and Stream magazine a few years later in an article recalling her receipt of the award.  “Where coolness, courage, and skill are required, in the aerodrome, on the mountains, in the sea, in the fencing school, she is always to be seen in the front rank.” As this tribute indicates, Marvingt’s achievements included a few notable transportation-oriented endeavors.

Marvingt had been born in the commune of Aurillac in south-central France in 1875. She and her family moved to the commune of Nancy in the northeastern part of the country when she was 14. Early on in life, Marvingt developed a formidable blend of expertise and enthusiasm when it came to a variety of recreational pursuits. One of these pursuits was water transportation; Marvingt was only 15 when she canoed nearly 250 miles (402.3 kilometers) from Nancy to the city of Coblenz (now known as Koblenz) in the present-day Federal Republic of Germany.

Marvingt embraced other means of travel with similar aplomb. By 1899, she had obtained a driver’s license. Marvingt also became a highly skilled cyclist, once even pedaling approximately 670 miles (1,078.3 kilometers) between Nancy and the Italian city of Naples just to witness a volcanic eruption. When Marvingt was denied permission to participate in the 1908 Tour de France because of her gender, she took it upon herself to pedal along the course after the race; she completed that difficult ride, something which only 36 of the 114 male competitors managed to do that year.

Marvingt likewise distinguished herself through various airborne activities. In 1909, she became the first woman to pilot a balloon across the North Sea and the English Channel from mainland Europe to England. Marvingt also learned how to pilot an airplane with great skill, making military history during World War as the first woman to fly combat missions. In addition, Marvingt was a longtime advocate of “air ambulances” for flying individuals in need of urgent medical attention to healthcare facilities.

Marvingt, who died in 1963 at the age of 88 in the French commune of Laxou (not far from Nancy), would remain engaged and active in transportation efforts throughout most of her life. At the age of 86, for example, she cycled about 175 miles (281.6 kilometers) between Nancy and the capital city of Paris.

For more information on Marie Marvingt, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Marvingt.

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