Marie Marvingtf: The WWI and WWII Pilot And Nurse Who Lived An Incredible Life

Via University of Houston/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Marie Marvingt was so renowned for her courage that in 1903, she was nicknamed “the fiancee of danger.’ She was many other things as well. In her 88 years, the French woman served as a wartime pilot, took on the role of a military nurse, and competed as an athlete and a mountain climber. She left an indelible mark on both her country and the world at large. Here are some of the major accomplishments that Marie Marvingt accomplished during her life.

She excelled at athletics from a very young age

Marie Marvingt stands beside her airplane during the Femina Cup
Marie Marvingt stands beside her airplane during the Femina Cup (Image via Getty Images)

Marie Marvingt was born in Aurillac in France in 1875. Her father Felix was a champion billiards player and swimmer and he shared his love of athletics with his daughter. She was a natural at a number of different endeavors. By the age of 4, she could swim 4 kilometers and she canoed 400 kilometers at the age of 14.

In 1910, Marvingt became the first woman to climb most of the peaks of the Swiss and French Alps. In 1908, she attempted to participate in the Tour de France but was refused. She ran the course anyway, well behind the male riders, and completed the difficult course. Only 36 of the 114 men who participated in the race finished.

Marvingt took to the skies as soon as she could

In addition to all of the sports she excelled at, Marie was also interested in aviation. She first flew on a hot air balloon in 1901 and first piloted one in 1907. In 1914, she became the first woman to fly across the English Channel in a balloon.

Marvingt studied fixed-wing aviation with Hubert Lathem and received her pilot’s license in 1910. She was renowned for never “breaking wood” in a crash during her first 900 flights.

Marie also attempted to break aviation barriers. The Femina Cup was awarded to the licensed female pilot who had flown the longest distance in a solo flight in 1910. While mechanical failure prevented her from achieving her goal, the cup created global interest in female aviators.

Activities during the First and Second World War

Marie Marvingt and Hubert Lathem sit in an airplane
Marie Marvingt and Hubert Lathem sit in an airplane (Photo by: Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

When World War I broke out, Marvingt was eager to serve her country. She disguised herself as a man and joined the French Infantry, but was discovered and sent home. In 1915, though, she was able to volunteer as a pilot during bombing missions over Germany. She was awarded the Croix de guerre for her actions. During the conflict, she also served as a nurse and a war correspondent on the front lines in Italy.

Marvingt also helped in a number of ways during World War II. She served as a Red Cross Nurse where she has achieved the rank of corporal. Marie also fought in the resistance and for her efforts was given a medal with a star. In addition, Marvingt opened and ran a home for aviators injured in the war.

Marvingt was passionate about Air Ambulances

Marie Marvingt accomplished an incredible amount during her lifetime, but the thing she is arguably most known for was her passion for air ambulances. She first introduced the idea to the French government in 1910. She had a backer in Louis Béchereau, an engineer from Deperdussin. Marie was able to raise money to purchase a prototype, but Deperdussin went bankrupt prior to fabrication.

Marvingt did not give up on the idea, however. She created the Challenge Capitaine-Écheman in 1931. The challenge awarded prizes for transforming civilian airplanes into air ambulances. In 1934, Marvingt became the first-ever air nurse when Morroco established an air ambulance corps. For her efforts, she received the Médaille de la Paix du Maroc (Medal of Peace of Morocco).

Marie Marvingt left behind an incredible legacy

Marie Marvingt arrives in Washington DC to speak to the American Legion in 1947
Marie Marvingt arrives in Washington DC to speak to the American Legion in 1947 (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

While she always had plenty of interests, Marvingt focused on the air ambulance corps for the remainder of her life. When World War II began, Marie had support from some important figures in the French military, including Ferdinand Foch and Joseph Joffre. More than 500 women joined a corps of air nurses. All of these ladies had at least 10 hours of flying experience and some were also parachutists.

Posthumously, Marie Marvingt has received too many awards to list. There are a number of streets and schools named after her in her native France. A postage stamp was made in Marvingt’s honor in 2004. And the Soroptomist Club of Aurillac, an organization that provides women and girls with access to education, gives an award in her honor each year.