Women in Transportation History: Helen Hodge, Aviation Pioneer

Aviation pioneer Helen Hodge was one of the first American women to earn a pilot’s license. She was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1892, and received her secondary school education at Brownell Hall (now Brownell-Talbot School) in that city. By 1909, Hodge and her family had moved to Oakland, California.

Over time, both Hodge and her twin sister Florence “Dot” Hodge developed a strong interest in aviation. They sought to take flying lessons together at a flight training school in Redwood City, California, that was run by Silas Christofferson. After being initially rejected as students due to their gender, the Hodge twins were allowed to enroll at that school. (Their father, J.B. Hodge, reportedly disapproved of their plans to become airplane pilots but ultimately learned to live with their enthusiasm for airborne transportation.)

Frank Bryant served as the flight instructor for Helen and Dot Hodge, and he used a Curtiss biplane to teach the sisters how to fly. A San Francisco Examiner article in July 1916 characterized Helen as “the more venturesome of the couple.”    

Helen Hodge had at least one close call during her six months’ worth of flying lessons. This occurred after she had piloted a plane to an altitude of 1,500 feet (457.2 meters) and that aircraft’s motor mount broke apart. Despite a now-loosened motor – and to the astonishment of everyone who witnessed this incident – Hodge managed to safely maneuver the plane back down to earth.   

On August 19, 1916, Hodge’s first independent flight took place in the skies above San Francisco Bay. She acquired her pilot’s license on November 12 of that year. Hodge became only the 11th female in the United States to be given a pilot’s license, and records also indicate that she was the last American woman to receive that type of certification prior to the U.S. entry in World War I. During that war, Hodge was a flight instructor for American servicemen. As a trailblazing pilot, Hodge also established herself as a staunch advocate for flight safety.

Hodge eventually moved to Los Angeles. In 1937, she married Frank Harris. During their time in Los Angeles, Helen Hodge Harris worked as a supervisor at a machine shop there that produced various airplane tools. At one point, she oversaw the work of 20 men and 14 women at that shop. Helen Hodge Harris died in the city of Pomona in the Greater Los Angeles area in 1967.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

For more information on Helen Hodge, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Hodge_Harris

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