“Girl Comes to Fly”: Pioneering Aviator Elena Caragiani

From the New York Evening World, published 2/26/1914
From the New York Evening World, published 2/26/1914

From the New York World, an article published February 26, 1914:

Wants to See This Country from an Airship

Miss Helene Caragiani, a Roumanian aviatress, arrived to-day on the Olympic(.) Miss Caragiani has been an amateur flyer for three years. She is making her first visit to America and wants to see it through a bird’s eyes. Therefore she is going to write to the Wrights for the right to go up in one of their machines. She said she would at once make arrangements to get a machine and fly about the country.

“It is the best way to see any land, as a bird sees it,” remarked Miss Caragiani. “I love flying and I want to fly in this the land that first made flying possible.”

During her stay in New York Miss Caragiani will stop at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

Americans may not know about Elena Caragiani today, but Romanian students still write papers about her, calling her a hero.

Elena Caragiani (myhero.com)
Elena Caragiani (myhero.com)

What the condescending news copy of 100 years ago doesn’t indicate is Caragiani was a badass. Check this out, from a website celebrating 100 years of licensed women pilots. This is worth quoting at length:

…Upon completing the courses, [Caragiani] applied to receive a pilot license at the Ministries of Education and Civil Defense but her application was rejected by Spiru Haret and General Crainiceanu. She decided to go to France. She joined the School of Civil Aviation of Mourmelon le Grand led by Roger Sommer. She passed all the exams and received her pilot license when she was 27 years old.

Her home country did not allow her to participate to airshows. She became a reporter for a major French daily newspaper, traveling to the Caribbean, Mexico or South America, then a war correspondent for Press Trust of Mexico. When Romania entered the war, in 1916, Elena asked to participate as a pilot to defend the country or to carry wounded in hospitals. Her request was denied. She became a Red Cross nurse in a hospital in Bucharest.

I bolded to the part I love. Caragiani wanted to fly for Romania in World War I, going head-to-head against the likes of the Red Baron. Because it was the early 1900s, she was subjected to more head-patting treatment (the tone of the New York paper’s article was probably as condescending to a thinking person in 1914 as it sounds today) and consigned to finding a role on the ground.

I couldn’t find a record of Caragiani ever meeting Orville or Wilbur Wright and flying one of their planes. One may exist in another newspaper database. I hope so. I like imagining the newly-minted flyer having a few moments to see that distant America from the air. It would have been a hell of a way to see the new world, then.

Elena Caragiani made the most of the role she had in the war effort. In October, 1916, the New York Times reported Caragiani and another woman were visiting New York. They were in charge of a fund “to be applied to the relief of the war sufferers of Rumania (sic)” under the sponsorship of the British War Relief Association.

Another famous flyer was in New York at the time, too. A young Amelia Earhart had just graduated from Hyde Park High School earlier in the year.

Caragiani continued flying and working as a journalist throughout the 1920s. She died in 1929. She was 42.

[Celebrate 100 Years of Licensed Women Pilots]