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Marie Félicie Elisabeth Marvingt
Marie Marvingt in her Deperdussin aeroplane, 1912
Born (1875-02-20)20 February 1875
Aurillac, in Cantal, France
Died 14 December 1963(1963-12-14) (aged 88)
Laxou, in Meurthe-et-Moselle, France
Occupation Athlete, mountaineer, aviator, nurse, journalist
Parents Mother, Elisabeth née Brusquin, (died 1889); Father, Felix Marvingt, died 1916.

Marie Marvingt (20 February 1875 – 14 December 1963)[1] was a French athlete, mountaineer, aviator and journalist. She won numerous prizes for her sporting achievements[2] including those of swimming, cycling, mountain climbing, winter sports, ballooning, flying, riding, gymnastics, athletics, rifle shooting and fencing. She was the first woman to climb many of the peaks in the French and Swiss Alps. She was a record-breaking balloonist, an aviator and during World War I became the first woman to fly missions during conflict as a pilot. She was also a qualified surgical nurse, was the first trained and certified Flight Nurse in the world, and worked for the establishment of air ambulance services throughout the world. According to a French source,[3] it was M. de Château-Thierry de Beaumanoir who, in 1903, named Marie Marvingt as "La fiancée du danger." She herself used the epithet for an autobiographical publication in 1948. It is also included on the commemorative plaque[4] on the façade of the house where she lived at 8 Place de la Carrière, Nancy.


Early life

Marie Marvingt was born at 6.30 p.m of 20 February 1875 in Aurillac, the Chief Town of the Cantal département of France.[5] Her father's full name was Félix Constant Marvingt and her mother was named Elisabeth Brusquin. They had married in Metz, Moselle, Lorraine on 16 July 1861. At the date of birth they were recorded as 48 and 32, respectively. Her father was "Receveur principal des Postes" – roughly equivalent to Senior Postmaster. The full names of the subject, as recorded on the certificate, are:- Marie Félicie Elisabeth Marvingt.

Later, her family moved to Metz, at that time part of Germany, where they lived from 1880 to 1889. When Marie Marvingt's mother died in 1889,[6] the girl found herself, at 14, in charge of a household of her father and her brother, whom she cared for while devouring books by explorers and scientists. After her mother's death, she moved with her father and brother to Nancy in the Meurthe-et-Moselle département, where she remained for the rest of her life.

She was encouraged to participate in sports by her father,[2] Felix. It is said that at the age of 5 she had already swum 4000m in a single day. She enjoyed many other sports including water polo, horse riding, athletics, boxing, martial arts, fencing, shooting, tennis, golf, hockey, football, winter sports, and mountaineering, and also practiced circus skills. In 1890, at the age of 15, she canoed over 400 kilometers from Nancy to Koblenz, Germany. In 1899 she earned her driving licence.

Sporting successes

Marvingt 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 – including traversing[2] the Aiguille des Grands Charmoz and the Grépon Pass from Chamonix in a single day, with the guides of the Payot family of Chamonix. In 1905 during a race[2] she became the first Frenchwoman to swim the length of the Seine through Paris. The newspapers nicknamed her "l'amphibie rouge" ("the red amphibian") from the colour of her swimming costume.

In 1907 she won an international military shooting competition using a French army carbine and became the only woman ever awarded the palms du Premier Tireur (First Gunner palms) by a French Minister of War. She dominated the 1908 to 1910 winter sports seasons at Chamonix, Gérardmer, and Ballon d'Alsace, where she achieved first place on more than 20 occasions. On 26 January 1910 she won the Coupe Leon Auscher (Leon Auscher Cup) in the women's bobsledding world championship.

She enjoyed cycling and rode from Nancy, France, to Naples, Italy, to see a volcanic eruption. 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 gruelling ride, a feat which only 36 of 114 male riders had managed that year. On 15 March 1910 the Académie des Sports (French Academy of Sports) awarded her a Médaille d'Or (Gold Medal) "for all sports", the only multi-sport medal they have ever awarded.

Achievements in early aviation


Marie Marvingt ascended as a passenger in a free-flight balloon for the first time in 1901.[7] Then, on 19 July 1907, she piloted one. In September 1909, she made her first solo flight as a balloon pilot. On 26 October 1909 Marvingt became the first woman to pilot a balloon across the North Sea and English Channel from Europe to England. For this flight, her balloon was called L'Étoile Filante (The Shooting Star). She won prizes for ballooning in 1909 and 1910.[8] She earned her balloon pilot's certificate (#145) from the Aero-Club Stella in 1910.

Fixed-wing powered flight

In September 1909, Marie Marvingt experienced her first flight as a passenger in an aeroplane piloted by Roger Sommer. During 1910, she studied fixed-wing aviation with Hubert Latham, the Anglo-French rival of Louis Blériot, in an Antoinette aeroplane. She piloted and flew solo in this monoplane, the first woman to do so – she was the second to be licensed in a monoplane, the first being Marthe Niel.

Marie Marvingt received a pilot's licence from the Aéro-Club de France (Aero Club of France) on 8 November 1910[9] Licensed No. 281, she was the third Frenchwoman to be registered after Raymonde de Laroche (No. 36) and Marthe Niel (No. 226). She was the only woman ever licensed in the difficult-to-fly Antoinette monoplane. In her first 900 flights she never "broke wood" in a crash, a record unequaled at that time.

Femina Cup

Once licensed, Marie Marvingt competed on a number of occasions for the Coupe Femina (Femina Cup). On 3 December 1910, the Illustrated London News[10] featured Marie Marvingt on its "Portraits and World's News" page. A head-and-shoulders portrait is carried in a circular frame at the top of the page. She wears her leather flying helmet, with goggles pushed up. A fulsome report below states that she has beaten the long distance flight record for airwomen. "The flight was made for a cup offered by the Paris newspaper Femina." She had beaten "Madame Laroche's record", with a flight of 27 miles in 53 minutes, piloting an Antoinette. This took place at Mourmelon-le-grand, where she was a pupil of Latham. It was probably believed that this would lead to her Femina Cup success for 1910, but this was not to be so. Incidentally, this citation also confirms her swimming prowess, including the Seine swim, as well as her mountaineering feats. Finally, on 21 December 1910, she was beaten in that year's Femina Cup contest by Hélène Dutrieu, who won again in both 1911 and 1912. Actually, Marie Marvingt was never to grasp this trophy, since it was won by de Laroche in 1913, and then discontinued because of the war. Although the annual award results for this trophy are somewhat unclear, due to journalistic enthusiasm at the time, with a tendency to report "wins" before the year-end, these facts have now emerged and each year's result will be fully supported by contemporary citations.

Air displays

It is said that Marie Marvingt was again competing for the Coup Femina in Turin in 1911. A leader of aviation in Turin[11] was the Sicilian-born engineer Prof. Franz Miller, who in 1909 founded the first Italian "Factory for the Production of Flying Machines" at No. 9, Via Legnano, Turin. During 1911, there were many competitions on the Italian international air circuit at Montichiari (Brescia) and flying schools were started both by Miller's company and by the Asteria Company who advertised the availability of "both biplanes and monoplanes" with "instructors of the highest order". However, as indicated above some reports[3] that "she won the Coup Femina in Turin" are incorrect.

Delay in air ambulance plans

Marie Marvingt proposed the development of fixed-wing aircraft as air ambulances to the French government as early as 1910.[12] With the help of Deperdussin company engineer Becherau (who also designed the SPAD fighter), she designed the first practical air ambulance. She carried out a campaign to raise money to purchase one for the French Government and the Red Cross, and in 1912 she ordered an air ambulance from Deperdussin, but it was never delivered because the business failed after the owner, Armand Deperdussin, embezzled company money[13] At trial, with the verdict announced on 30 March 1917, Deperdussin was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to five years’ hard labour. He was by then already bankrupt. But by application of the law of "Sursis", he was granted an indefinite postponement of sentence. He later committed suicide through shame.

World War I and the French armed forces

Émile Friant's drawing of Marie Marvingt and her proposed air ambulance, 1914

In 1914 Marvingt was drawn by Émile Friant with her proposed air ambulance. During World War I she disguised herself as a man and, with the connivance of a French infantry lieutenant, served on the front lines as a Chasseur 2ième Classe (Soldier, 2nd Class) in the 42ième Bataillon de Chasseurs à Pied (42nd Battalion of Foot Soldiers). She was discovered and sent home but later participated in military operations with the Italian 3º Reggimento Alpini (3rd Regiment of Alpine Troops) in the Italian Dolomites at the direct request of Marshal Foch. She also served as a Red Cross nurse.[14]

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.[15] 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 aeroplanes landing on sand.

Air ambulances

Marvingt devoted the remainder of her long life to the concept of aeromedical evacuation, giving more than 3000 conferences and seminars on the subject on at least four continents. She was co-founder of the French organisation Les Amies De L'Aviation Sanitaire (Friends of Medical Aviation) and was also one of the organizers behind the success of the First International Congress on Medical Aviation in 1929.

In 1931 she created the Challenge Capitaine-Écheman (Captain Écheman Challenge) which gave a prize for the best civil aircraft which was transformable to an air ambulance. In 1934 she established a civil air ambulance service in Morocco and was subsequently awarded the Medaille de la Paix du Maroc (Medal of Peace of Morocco). In the same year she developed training courses for the Infirmières de l'Air (Nurses of the Air) and in 1935 became the first person certified as a Flight Nurse. In 1934 and 1935 she wrote, directed and appeared in two documentary films about the history, development and use of air ambulances: Les Ailes qui Sauvent (Wings which Save) and Sauvés par la Colombe (Saved by the Dove). On 24 January 1935 Marvingt was made a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honour), and was promoted to the grade of Officer in 1949.

The Flying Ambulance Corps[12] operated by women pilots and staffed by doctors and trained nurses, was intended to rescue the wounded on the battlefield using aircraft, landing at designated ground stations with crews of nurses, stretcher-bearers, and effective medical aid. By 1939, it appeared vital again and Marie Marvingt had been working on this and similar schemes for nearly thirty years. Whilst organising "L'Aviation Sanitaire", recruiting women pilots and nurses, she made several visits to America to confer with Government officials in that country. In France itself, she had been supported by authorities including Marshals Foch and Joffre. Her schemes caught the imagination of the young women of her country and at the start of WW II, this escalated. More than five hundred nurses with at least ten hours' flying experience joined a new parachute corps, directly initiated by another famous French flier, Maryse Hilsz,.[16] Dressed in full nursing uniform and carrying supplies, Hilz and others made parachute landings on occasions when weather or ground conditions made it impossible for flying ambulances to land. With the fall of France, Hilz joined the resistance and briefly, just after the war, was involved in setting up a women pilots’ corps in the regular French Air Force (Armée de l'air). During World War II Marie Marvingt also established a convalescent centre for wounded aviators and served as a surgical nurse, inventing a new type of surgical suture. On 30 January 1955, she received the Deutsch de la Meurthe grand prize from the Fédération Nationale d'Aéronautique (French National Federation of Aeronautics) at the Sorbonne for her work in aviation medicine.

An octogenarian aviator

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 an American fighter jet.[17] In the same year she also studied piloting helicopters, though she never earned her helicopter pilot's licence. In 1961, at the age of 86, she cycled[6] from Nancy to Paris.

Death and posthumous recognition

Marie Marvingt died on 14 December 1963, aged 88, at Laxou,[18] a small commune in the Meurthe-et-Moselle department in north-eastern France. Her funeral was on 17 December in Saint-Epvre and she is buried in the Cimetière de Préville, Nancy, department, Lorraine, France.[19]

In France, there are streets, gymnasia, schools, flying clubs, scout groups, and an apartment complex named after her. France issued an air mail stamp in her honour on 29 June 2004. Several annual awards are given in her memory including those of the Soroptimist Club of Aurillac, France, and one sponsored by the French Aviation and Space Medicine Association (SOFRAMAS) through the United States Aerospace Medical Association.


File:Marie marvingt.JPG

Airmail, RF 2004 Marie Marvingt 1875–1963

In 2004, Marie Marvingt was commemorated by a French Airmail stamp[20] bearing the face value of €5.00.

  • Designed by Christophe Drochon and engraved by André Lavergne.
  • Date of issue 05-07-2004 – Withdrawal date 05-08-2005.
  • Horizontal format, 47 x 27 mm; perforations included 52 x 31 mm.
  • Two bars phosphorescent.
  • Print Mixed – Intaglio / offset; colour polychrome.
  • Perforations 13 x 13 1/2
  • Issued in a souvenir sheet of ten.
  • Michel Catalogue No. 3832.


Published works


  • La Fiancée du Danger (Fiancee of Danger) (No copy of this reported publication has been found—if anyone can find it, a detailed citation and location would be appreciated.)
  • Ma Traversée de la Mer du Nord en Ballon (My North Sea Crossing in a Balloon)
  • Les Ailes qui Sauvent (Wings which Save), 1949 (Listed in many works on Marvingt, no copy of this publication has been found—If anyone can find it, a detailed citation and location would be appreciated.)
  • Sauvés par la Colombe (Saved by the Dove), 1950 (Listed in many works on Marvingt, no copy of this publication has been found—If anyone can find it, a detailed citation and location would be appreciated.)
  • Marvingt also published many articles and papers.

Fiction and poetry

  • Marvingt wrote fiction and prize-winning poetry under the pseudonym Myriel.


  • Les Ailes qui Sauvent (The Wings which Save), 1934, writer, director and actor/presenter (This film still exists.)
  • Sauvés par la Colombe (Saved by the Dove), 1935, writer, director and actor/presenter (This film seems to have disappeared entirely, and no copy has been found in spite of much effort.)


A commemorative plaque in Nancy

  • Marvingt received the greatest range of decorations amongst women in the history of France with more than 34 official medals and decorations.
  • Awarded the Palmes Académiques (Academic Palms).
  • Awarded the Médaille de l'Aéronautique (Medal for Aeronautics).
  • 1907, awarded the palms du Premier Tireur (First Gunner palms) by the Minister of War.
  • 26 January 1910, won the Coupe Leon Auscher (Leon Auscher Cup) in the women's bobsledding world championship.
  • 15 March 1910, awarded a Médaille d'Or (Gold Medal) "for all sports" from the Académie des Sports (Academy of Sports).
  • 1911, competed in the Aéro-Club de France's (Aero Club of France) Coupe Femina (Femina Cup) for long-distance flying.
  • Awarded the Croix de guerre 1914 -1918 avec palmes (Military Cross 1914–1918 with palms) for her aerial bombing of a German military base.
  • Awarded the Médaille de la Paix du Maroc (Medal of Peace of Morocco) for establishing a civil air ambulance service.
  • A Full Member of "Les Vieilles Tiges", an aero-club for pilots, pioneers and friends of aviation, founded on 20 November 1920. Its French website includes a brief biography.
  • January 24, 1935, named a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur (Chevalier of the Legion of Honour).
  • 5 November 1937, named a Chevalier dans l'Ordre de la Santé publique (Chevalier of the Order of Public Health).
  • 1948-1949, won an international literary prize from the Women's Aeronautical Association of Los Angeles for her books La Fiancée du Danger and Ma Traversée de la Mer du Nord en Ballon.
  • 1949, promoted to Officier de la Légion d'honneur (Officer of the Legion of Honour).
  • 1950, awarded the Médaille de la Ville de Nancy (Medal of the Town of Nancy).
  • 30 January 1955, received the grand prize Deutsch de la Meurthe from the Fédération Nationale d'Aéronautique (French National Federation of Aeronautics) at the Sorbonne for her work in aviation medicine.
  • 1957, awarded the Médaille d'Or de l'Éducation Physique (Gold Medal for Physical Education).
  • 1957, awarded the Médaille d'Argent du Service de Santé de l'Air (Silver Medal of the Medical Service of the Air Force).


  1. BnF catalogue général; notice n° : FRBNF12228243, création : 91/12/10; mise à jour : 11/04/05; Retrieved 9 April 2013
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 ""THE BRIDE OF DANGER.".". Perth: National Library of Australia. 8 May 1914. p. 45. Retrieved 20 April 2013. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Online biography (in French)[dead link] Retrieved 12 April 2013 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Free French" defined multiple times with different content
  4. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-01-16. Retrieved 2013-04-12. 
  5. French birth certificate – Archives Nationales, Dossier: 19800035/445/59623; Retrieved 15 April 2013
  6. 6.0 6.1 , Ackerman, Gordon; "Fiancée of Danger"; Sports Illustrated; 26 June 1961. Accessed 26 April 2013.
  7. Lahausse, Jean-Bernard et Sertelet, Romain: Biographie du Mois – Mars 2013 (In French). Accessed 27 April 2013. NOTE: A useful fresh biography that does not simply repeat all of the details recorded elsewhere.
  8. A press photograph, Agence Rol, archived as a 13 x 18 cm negative on glass, shows Mlle Marvingt and Mlle Carton, aviatrixes, in front of a balloon basket on the racecourse at Longchamp, on the occasion of the award of the Grand prix de l'Aéro Club de France, 26 June 1910 Retrieved 9 April 2013
  9. "Liste Numérique des Brevets des Pilotes Aviateurs délivrés avant le 2 aout 1914" (List of Pilots’ Licences issued before 2 August 1914). Retrieved 9 April 2013
  10. "Portraits and World's News." Illustrated London News [London, England] 3 Dec. 1910: 862+. Illustrated London News. Web. Retrieved 11 Apr. 2013.
  11. Aero Club Torino, History 1909 – 1915: Miller. Accessed 24 April 2013.
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Airwomen's Flying Ambulance Corps.". National Library of Australia. 6 November 1939. p. 2 Supplement: Women's Supplement. Retrieved 22 April 2013. 
  13. The Deperdussin case, Flight, 12 April 1917: Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  14. Alison Fell (27 October 2014). "Viewpoint: Why are so few WW1 heroines remembered?". BBC News. Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  15. Historic Wings – Online Magazine; Article on Hélène Dutrieu Coupe Femina and Marie Marvingt:, Published on December 21, 2012: Retrieved 17 April 2013.
  16. French Wikipedia: fr:Maryse Hilsz: Accessed 22 April 2013. Note: The connection between Marie Marvingt and Maryse Hilsz is mentioned in a newspaper article on the former, written in 1939 (The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 November 1939, Women's Supplement, Accessible through National Library of Australia), but it is not commonly mentioned in Marvingt citations and there are not a lot of data. There is at present no English Wikipedia Article on Hilsz[better source needed]
  17. "Actualité de l'histoire" n°84, mai 2006, page 64
  18. Find a Grave Memorial:
  19.,+Jacques PYRAT. "Bertrand Beyern" (in fr). 

Further reading

  • Cordier, Marcel and Maggio, Rosalie. "Marie Marvingt, La Femme d'Un Siecle", Editions Pierron, Sarreguemines (France) 1991.
  • Granjon, Serge. "Les pionniers du ciel forézien", Osmose, 7 rue des Creuses, 42000, Saint-Étienne, (France) 2005.
  • Nicolaou, Stéphane & Misme-Thomas, Elisabeth. "Aviatrices – Un siècle d'aviation féminine française", Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace, Éditions Altipresse, 2004. ISBN 2911218213

External links

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