The history behind March 8 and why it’s marked by women in aviation

March 7-13 is a big week. It’s International Women’s Day on March 8 and it’s one year since AeroTime launched its own Women in Aviation Campaign to highlight the amazing and often unheard stories of the women and men working hard to bring more diversity and inclusion to aviation and inspire younger generations.  

“Equality in aviation is a huge issue for us here at AeroTime. I’m incredibly proud of the work everyone at the AeroTime team, no matter their gender, does to share the stories of all the people working tirelessly for diversity and inclusion in aviation,” comments AeroTime’s editor Zivile Zalagenaite. 

So, what is the history of these dates? AeroTime has dug into the archives to find out.  

The first International Women’s Day event was held in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. Back then it was on March 19. It was not until 1913, on the eve of World War One, that the date of March 8 was fixed after international discussions. March 8 in the Gregorian calendar is equivalent to February 23 in Russia, which was when Russian women marked their first International Women’s Day in 1913.  

Since then, March 8 has been celebrated as International Women’s Day across the world, although it was only really in the last decade that it has gained further traction. In 2019, the state of Berlin, which has fewer public holidays than other areas of Germany, even picked March 8 as a new public holiday.   

With aviation recovering from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been many calls for companies and organizations in the aviation industry to use this time as a chance to reset and focus on diversity and inclusion to build back better.  

“March 8 is always an exciting day in the calendar for me and all the women in the aviation industry,” said Sumati Sharma, Partner at Oliver Wyman and Founder & Co-Chair for Women in Aviation & Aerospace Charter, in a special video message for AeroTime. “It’s a really amazing industry to be in and now post-COVID as we have the restart and the recovery, I couldn’t be more excited in 2022.”  

The first licensed female pilot 

While March 8 is International Women’s Day across the world, it’s also a meaningful date for aviatrixes. 

It was on March 8, 1910 that Raymonde de Laroche became the first woman to be issued with a pilot license, receiving license number 36 from the Aeroclub de France.  

So, who was Raymonde de Laroche? Born on 22 August 1882 as Elise Raymonde Deroche, the young Frenchwoman was first an actress, using Raymonde de Laroche as her stage name. Having been inspired by early French aviation pioneers, she took up flying in October 1909.  

It was aircraft maker and pilot Charles Voisin who taught de Laroche to fly in Chalons, around 140 kilometers to the east of Paris. In the single-seat plane, de Laroche was given instruction on the ground, learning how to use the controls while taxiing, before taking off solo on her very first flight.  

Sadly, her flying career was not going to progress smoothly.  

Just a few months after receiving her license, de Laroche entered the 1910 Reims meet, the only female participant in the airshow, flying one of Voisin’s planes. Unfortunately, she was seriously injured in a crash, and a long recovery process followed, before she returned to flying in 1912.  

However, tragedy struck again that year when she was involved in a car crash, which resulted in the death of Charles Voisin.  

Returning to flying in 1913, de Laroche entered the Femina Cup, an award for female aviators, which she won with a flight lasting over 4 hours. But the arrival of war put paid to de Laroche’s flying career, as it was considered too dangerous for women.  

On July 18, 1919, de Laroche, whose next ambition was to become the first female test pilot, went to Le Crotoy airfield to act as one of two pilots on a new type of aircraft. Sadly, the aircraft entered a dive while on approach and crashed, killing both de Laroche and her fellow pilot.    

A statue of de Laroche can be found at Le Bourget airport just outside of Paris, the home of the biennial airshow.   

“It’s been over 100 years since the first woman was awarded a pilot license but we’re still a long way from getting equality for women in aviation. Let’s not leave it another 100 years,” concludes AeroTime’s Zalagenaite. 

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