MARIE MARVINGT: Air Ambulance Pioneer

Arleen Solomon Rotchin3 Comments

She was a remarkable person in life, but almost unknown outside of France.

And, even in France, it took considerable work by biographers to revive her amazing story nearly 20 years after her death in December, 1963.

Marie Marvingt (1875-1963) was the ultimate sportswoman in France and a dedicated advocate for the development of aeromedical evacuation.

She was the first woman to climb many of the peaks in the French and Swiss Alps and she was a record-breaking balloonist, and pioneering aviator.  During World War 1 she became the first woman to fly combat missions as a bomber pilot.

She was also a surgical nurse, the first trained and certified Flight Nurse in the world and worked for the establishment of air ambulance services throughout the world.

Sketch by Emile Friant, 1914

Sketch by Emile Friant, 1914

During World War 1, she disguised herself as a man, and with the connivance of a French infantry lieutenant, served on the front lines as a Soldier 2nd Class.  She also served as a Red Cross nurse.  

In 1915 Marie became the first woman in the world to fly combat missions when she became a volunteer pilot flying bombing missions over a German military base.  Between the two World Wars she worked as a journalist, war correspondent, and medical officer with the French Forces in North Africa.

While in Morocco, she invented metal skis and suggested their use on aeroplanes landing on sand.

In 1934 Marvingt established a civil air ambulance service in Morocco and was subsequently awarded the Medal of Peace of Morocco.  In the same year she developed training courses for the Nurses of the Air and in 1935 became the first person certified as a Flight Nurse.

The Flying Ambulance Corp 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 nurses, stretcher-bearers and effective medical aid.

During World War 11, Marie also established a convalescent centre for wounded aviators and served as a surgical nurse.

While organizing “L’Aviation Sanitaire’, recruiting women pilots and nurses, she made several visits to America to confer with Government officials in that country.  

She 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 4 continents. 

She was the co-founder of the French Organization 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.

On February 20, 1955, her 80th birthday, Marvingt was flown over Nancy by a US Air Force officer in an American fighter jet.  In the same year, she studied piloting helicopters, though she never earned her pilot’s license.

At the age of 86, she cycled from Nancy, France to Paris, France a distance of 217 miles/349k.

In 2004, Marie Marvingt was commemorated by a French airmail stamp.

In France there are streets, gymnasiums, schools, flying clubs, social groups, and an apartment complex named after her.  

She also wrote fiction and prize-winning poetry under the pseudonym Myriel.

Marvingt received the greatest range of decorations amongst women in the history of France with more than 34 official medals and decorations.

She died on December 14, 1963 at 88 years old.

Marie Marvingt as a Balloonist

Marie Marvingt as a Balloonist

In 1909 she was the first woman to pilot a balloon across the North Sea and English Channel from Europe to England.