Early female aviators

Isn’t it typical – I start this blog full of good intentions and then work gets in the way.
However, I have been playing with a new database at Ancestry – the Royal Aero Club Aviators’ Certificates.
The Royal Aero Club was founded in 1901 and from 1910 issued Aviators Certificates, internationally recognised under the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. The Club was, and still is, responsible for control of all private and sporting flying in the UK.
This database contains about 28,000 index cards and 34 photograph albums of aviators who were issued with their flying licences (certificates) by the Royal Aero Club from 1910-1950. These included the first military and naval personnel to become pilots. The original records are now held by the Royal Air Force Museum in Hendon, London.
As I was playing, I noticed one or two women’s names and started to wonder if any of these early female aviators were Scottish. It turns out that there were 16 of them:
  • Miss Elizabeth Ann Roche Anderson, born 1908 Aug 18 in Dullatur
  • Miss Winifred Joyce Drinkwater, born 1913 Apr 11 in Waterfoot
  • Isabel Clare Drummond, born 1915 Dec 12 in Ardrossan
  • Miss Ivy Barbara Mary Forsyth, born 1905 Apr 24 in Inverness
  • Mary Coutts Gordon, born 1906 Oct 13 in St Andrews
  • Sheila MacDonald Green, born 1901 Feb 15 in Elgin
  • Maie Hardie, born 1893 Jan 14 in Kirkaldy
  • Mrs Eleanor Amalie Harper-Gow, born 1894 Jun 21 in Cupar
  • Miss Janet Hendry, born 1906 Oct 23 in Ardrossan,
  • Marjorie Emily Meredith Hunter, born 1908 Jun 22 in Kilmalcolm
  • Dorothy Millicent Kay, born 1911 Jan 3 in Edinburgh
  • The Hon Miss Mildred Katherine Leith, born 1894 Mar 22 in St Andrews
  • Mrs Henrietta Learmont MacEwan, born 1897 Jun 21 in Hurlet
  • Mrs Margaret Helen Saunders, born 1901 Jun 30 in Montrose
  • Shaw Annie Gillespie 1904 May 28 Uddingston
  • Mrs Mora Morton Weir, born 1896 Jan 16 in Tayport, Fife
and there’s photos of 12 of them.
Frustratingly, not one of then has an entry in either the Dictionary of National Biography or in Who Was Who.

15 thoughts on “Early female aviators”

  1. Nice work… Henrietta Learmont MacEwan nee Paterson was married to Malcolm MacEwan (a surgeon) in Eastwood, 1927.

    She was a medical practitioner when she married: I’m not sure if she continued to practice afterwards.

    1. How do you know Henrietta and Malcolm MacEwan. Would you be able to contact me with details of their children as I am very interested in their
      life and family? Thank you

      1. I have been researching my family history (and the Paterson family in particular).

        Henrietta would be my 1st cousin 3x removed. Her grandfather James Smith Paterson, was my 3x great granfather.

        It would be nice to be put in touch with Douglas if possible, so I could confirm a few details about the family who ended up in Ipswich (I believe he had two aunts from the Paterson side who lived there as well).

        1. Dear Stewart
          Well,Well,Well. I thought I was the only person on the planet looking for these particular Paterson ancestors. So far I have about 56 names pre my mother Henrietta. I would be very happy to compare notes. I should have realised when you mentioned my grandfather James, who smoked a pipe and sang songs to me when I was a (very) little boy!
          Regards from Douglas.

  2. Hi Stewart

    Thanks for commenting – was she an ancestor of yours?
    I suppose you could call her marriage a loose form of “keeping it in the family” as I notice from the 1901 census on Ancestry that her father was a sanitary inspector in Glasgow.

    I had another look at her aviators’ certificate and see that when she got the certificate in 1932 she was living in Ipswich.
    I suppose you could trace her career through the medical directories.


    1. Have you found out anything more about Henrietta and Malcolm MacEwan? I would be keen to learn more…. Thank you

    1. Hello Douglas!
      Yes, much is clear now – absolutely fascinating on many levels and a great deal to assimilate. Exciting discoveries and best to take small steps. Along the way, I do look forward to meeting you.
      Kind regards and thanks for all your help,

    1. very proud to have Mora as my midde name …. funny point is that at the moment i am helping my Chinese clients in Shanghai to develop the helicopter industry … must be a sign !

  3. Hi Jimmy
    She got her licence on 3 June 1930 flying a De Havilland Gipsy at the Scottish Flying Club (which was based at the old Abbotsinsch Airport). Her address was given as “Skeldon”, Dalrymple, Ayrshire and she’s one of the few who has a photograph!


    1. Thank you so much for that which is really interesting. Sorry to have been so slow in replying.

  4. Hi, I think our research interests probably overlap a lot.
    I am really fascinated to see Anne Gillespie Shaw listed as I had no idea she had flying in her skills. I know her principally as an early expert in time and motion studies. She doesnt yet have an entry in Wikipedia although her mother (Helen Brown Shaw MP) does. I hope to do a Wiki entry soon but can send you some info if you are interested.
    I am assembling a long list of women in engineering for the Women’s Engineering Society but all too few of them were Scottish or had any Scottish connections. As I am also indexing their journals, I can check if any of ‘your’ women are mentioned at all. WES had a lot of early females in aviation as members and Amy Johnson was president for a while. There was first of all an aviation section and then WES set up the British Women Pilots Association which, like WES, is still going strong.
    Happy to meet up for a blether and a cuppa if you happen to be in Glasgow.

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