There are those times when one simple thing leads to much more. That’s how it was when 2+ months ago I saw that the Rochester Public Library had the new digital book “5000 Miles Oakland; Wonderful Performance of a Wonderful Car; The Story of Miss Scott’s Journey Overland.” It is the story of Blanche Stuart Scott and her companion being the first women driving across the US in 1910.
Blanche Stuart Scott was born in Rochester on April 8, 1884 to John C. S. and Belle (Herendeen) Scott. She was their only child and as a teenager was driving her father’s Cadillac around Rochester. After her father died in 1903 she was sent to finishing schools. Leaving the finishing school, Blanche went to New York City and started selling Mitchell automobiles.
In 1910 Blanche wrote to the Oakland automobile company to convince them to sponsor her trip across the US. It would be a trip with a publicist making sure that towns would know that the car was coming. Blanche would have a companion Gertrude Lyman Phillips (also recorded as Amy) who was a reporter and would later write the book about the trip. They left New York City on May 16, 1910. Along the way they stopped at Oakland dealerships and also made many side trips. On one of the side trips they went to Dayton, Ohio where they saw airplanes flown by Wilbur Wright and another Wright flight instructor.
The trip was not without troubles. Very little of the US had paved roads and in some cases not even graded dirt roads. They had many flat tires and broken springs that were repaired by local blacksmiths. In the east half of the country, they had maps from AAA but out west they would follow telegraph wires when they could find them.
Blanche would drive the whole trip which actual was 5,393 miles. They entered San Francisco on July 23, 1910 with an escort of many other autos. Blanche would tell everyone for the rest of her life that she was the first woman to drive across the US. The truth was that Alice Huyler Ramsey had done the same trip in 1909.
That is where the book ends but not their journey. Blanche and Gertrude would continue by driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles. There they met Glenn Martin who at the time was an Oakland dealer. He had a great interest in airplanes and would later build airplanes. His company still exists as part of Lockheed Martin. Mr. Martin thought that Blanche might like to ride in an airplane as a further publicity stunt. When she got to the airfield the plane had crashed so she didn’t fly but an aggressive reporter had already filed a short report that she had flown.
Blanche and Gertrude would take the train back to New York with a stop in Toledo to the Oakland auto factory. The auto trip would be the biggest accomplishment for most people but Blanche would have a more extensive carrer.
Blanche was then asked if she would like to learn to fly an airplane. She went to Hammondsport, NY and got instruction from Glenn Curtiss. In early September Blanche would become the first woman to pilot an airplane in the US.
Blanche joined the Curtiss Exhibition Team and on Oct. 23, 1910 flew in Fort Wayne, IN in front of 10,000. This would give her the credit as the first woman to pilot an airplane in public.
The next day, Blanche would marry Harry B. Tuttle in Detroit. He had been the publicist on her car trip. That marriage didn’t last very long.
Blanche was flying out west for Glenn Martin Flying Circus where she was billed as the “Tomboy of the Air.” A short film of Blanche, “An Aviator’s Success,” was released Jan. 2, 1912. Another short film, “The Aviator and the Autoist Race for a Bride” had Blanche fly in street clothes on Jan. 28th and the film was released 8 days later.
The flying team was in Boston and Blanche was in the air when another woman flyer had a deadly accident. Harriet Quimby and her passenger William A. H. Willard hit an air pocket and were thrown out of their airplane. Mr. Willard was the manager of the airfield. It wouldn’t be the only airplane death that Blanche would witness.
At Madison, WI on May 31, 1913 the throttle wire broke on Blanche’s airplane and she crashed. Newspaper accounts say that she suffered only minor injuries but many years later Blanche would say that she broke ribs and a collar bone and was sent to the hospital. Blanche also said that she also had crashed in Sacramento, CA but without scratch.
She quit flying in 1916 because the money for flying shows had dropped dramatically. Then her airplane was sold to the US government to use as a trainer during World War I.
Blanche married George K. Hennings on July 12, 1917 in Lake County, IN. He owned a string of movie theaters and a small movie studio. Blanche ran the studio for a couple of years, but the marriage didn’t last.
Blanche would end up at radio station KFI in Los Angeles as both a script writer and a radio talk show host. Then in 1935 she returned to Rochester because of her mother became sick. She worked for WSAY, WVET and WARC in Rochester as a script writer and had hosted the show, “Rambles with Roberta.”
On September 6, 1948, Blanche was became the first woman passenger in a jet. The pilot was Chuck Yeager who had broken the sound barrier the year before.
Her mother died in Feb. 1950 and soon after Blanche moved to Hornell, NY to work for radio station WLEA. She left that position in 1955 and became a consultant to the new US Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH. She would travel around the counctry gathering artifacts for the displays.
By the mid 1960s Blanche was back living in Rochester. She was to die on Jan. 12, 1972 at Genesee Hospital. She is buried in Riverside Cemetery, next to her mother. Her grave is tended to by Marcia K. Gitelman who also has a website dedicated to Blanche.