Born in 1875 in Aurillac, Marie Marvingt (1875 – 1963) grew up enjoying many sports. At the age of 5, she could already swim 4000 meters. Marie became a world-class athlete who won numerous prizes in swimming, fencing, shooting, ski jumping, speed skating, luge and bobsledding. She was also a skilled mountaineer and, between 1903 and 1910, she became the first woman to climb most of the peaks in the French and Swiss Alps. In 1908 she was refused permission to participate in the Tour de France because the race was only open to men. Marvingt refused to relinquish her ambition and cycled the course after the race. She successfully completed the grueling ride, a feat which only 36 of 114 male riders had managed that year.
Initially, she was involved in aviation as a balloonist and was the first woman in the world to pilot an aircraft from France to England on 26 October 1909. She learned to fly and flew solo in a monoplane, an Antoinette. She is credited as the first woman to do so. On November 8 1910, Marie became the third woman in the world to earn a pilot licence and the only woman ever licensed in the difficult to fly Antoinette monoplane. She participated in many airshows and set the first official women’s flight records for duration and distance. In 1911, she won the Coupe Femina.
In 1915, Marvingt became the first woman in the world to fly combat missions when she became a volunteer pilot flying bombing missions over German-held territory and she received the Croix de Guerre (Military Cross) for her aerial bombing of a German military base in Metz. Between the two World Wars she worked as a journalist, war correspondent, and medical officer with French Forces in North Africa. While in Morocco, she invented metal skis and suggested their use on airplanes landing on sand.
Marvingt devoted the remainder of her long life to the concept of aeromedical evacuation. She was co-founder of the French organization Les Amies De L’Aviation Sanitaire (Friends of Aviation Medicine). In 1934, she established a civil air ambulance service in Morocco and, in the same year, developed training courses for the Infirmières de l’Air (Nurses of the Air). In 1935, she became the first person licensed to practice aviation para-medicine.
On 20 February 1955, her eightieth birthday, Marvingt was flown over Nancy by a U.S. Air Force officer from Toul-Rosières Air Base in a F-101 Voodoo fighter jet and reputedly broke the sound barrier. In the same year, she also earned her helicopter pilot’s licence. In 1961, at the age of 86, she cycled from Nancy to Paris.