Marie Marvingt, Superhero

Marie Marvingt achieved fame as an aviator, but she was also a pioneering skier and inventor of an early aluminum ski. By Seth Masia


She’s famous in France, but nearly unheard of in North America. Marie Marvingt (1875–1963) was an athletic phenomenon who forged a path for women into mountaineering, martial arts, skiing, cycling, aviation and military service. Combining her careers as a surgical nurse and military aviator, she invented the concept and technology of the air ambulance, and promoted air-evac services around the world. 

With few exceptions, women of her era who succeeded in alpinism and aviation had the support of their wealthy families or husbands. In fact, Marie never married and had to work for her adventures. Marie’s father, Felix Marvingt, was postmaster of Aurillac, a decidedly middle-class occupation. After 1879 when, at age 52, Felix fled his stifling career as a bureaucrat, the family lived on his pension. A champion swimmer in his youth, Felix was 48 years old at Marie’s birth, and encouraged her to excel in sports—first swimming, then cycling, canoeing, mountaineering and gymnastics. From the age of five, she followed Felix on his swims in the Moselle and on trekking holidays in the Alps. At 15, she trained with the Alphonse Rancy Circus, learning to do acrobatics on horseback. With a preternatural sense of balance, she quickly became a leading equestrienne. Equitation put her in touch with cavalry officers, who dominated the sport. For the rest of her life Marie maintained a close relationship with officers of the French Army...


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