L is for Clara Livingston

As usual, I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for round 19 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme. But finding suitable characters is getting harder, so apologies in advance if I miss out some of the alphabet.

livinsgton-receives-her-licenceThis week we have another of those pioneers of aviation, the aviatrix Clara Livingston, the 200th woman to gain a pilot’s licence and only the 11th to fly a helicopter.

Livingston was born in Chautauqua, New York, in 1900, the daughter the physician, Alfred Livingston, who retired a few years later and took his family across the globe to establish a coconut and citrus plantation in Dorado, Puerto Rico.

In 1911, her father took her to see a travelling air circus. For the eleven-year-old Livingston it was love at first sight and she swore that one day she would fly too, but ambitions were put on hold when her father died in 1925 and she took over the management of the family plantation.

Rearwin Ken-Royce biplaneIt was not until 1930 that she got her chance when she travelled to Long Island to take flying lessons and when she became the 200th qualified woman pilot in the world. She celebrated by buying her first plane, a Rearwin Ken-Royce biplane which she then flew the 1,600 miles to Puerto Rico.

Livingston had become good friends with that other pioneer of the air, Amelia Earhart, and in 1937 she and her navigator accepted Livingston’s invitation to stop off at the plantation on their attempted world flight. Livingston was one of the last people to see her alive.

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, Livingston was taking her instructor’s exam in Cleveland, Ohio, and while returning to Puerto Rico, she had her plan commandeered in Miami, so she returned to Cleveland to become a flight instructor for the War Training Service, training pilots for the army.

Clara LivingstonAs well as her training duties, Livingston also became a member of the Civil Air Patrol and carried out search and courier missions and received a commendation for flying in zero-visibility conditions to locate a sinking barge on Lake Erie.

After the war, Livingston returned to Puerto Rico and in 1947 she set up a flying school in San Juan and in 1951 she joined the Whirly Girls as only the eleventh woman qualified to fly a helicopter. She also became the Wing Commander of the Puerto Rican branch of the Civil Air Patrol from 1947 to her retirement in 1962.

Livingston finally stopped flying at the age of 75 and continued to live on the remains of the plantation, having given away thirty acres of the property to twenty families who had worked the land. She died in 1992 and the house she rebuilt in Puerto Rico in 1928 is now a hotel and recognised as a building of historical importance.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

9 comments… Add yours
  • Yorkshire Pudding 28th September 2016

    All very well and good but how good was she at ironing and baking buns?

    • Mr Parrot 28th September 2016

      Well she was the main judge in The Great Puerto Rican Bake Off.

  • leslie 28th September 2016

    Fascinating story of a woman “before her times.” How wonderful it would be to fly like that. Thanks for sharing this story.

    abcw team

  • Melody Steenkamp 28th September 2016

    Daredevil lady….

    Have a nice ABC-day / – week
    ♫ M e l ☺ d y ♫ (ABC-team)

  • Margy 28th September 2016

    As a female private pilot this story was really interesting. – Margy

  • ann 28th September 2016

    Another great history story of a pioneer for Women.

  • Su-sieee! Mac 28th September 2016

    I want to learn more about Ms. Livingston. I especially like how she gave her property away to her long-time employees.

    • Marina M. Grayson 24th January 2022

      Clara Livingston was the one that taught my father Ricardo Gonzalez Cano how to fly, he was only 21 years old.

  • Roger O Green 30th September 2016

    Impressive. And from upstate New York State!



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