Marie Félicie Élisabeth Marvingt (1875-1963) was one of the most versatile athletes in French history. The long list of adventures and skills seems almost impossible to believe: aviator, balloonist, mountaineer, swimmer, gymnast, the list goes on. She was the first woman to climb the highest peaks in the French Alps and won numerous prizes in skiing, speed skating, luge and bobsledding. She was more than capable at fencing and riflery. She fought in WWI (disguised as a man) and was in the French Resistance during WWII. She tried to participate in the Tour de France in 1908 but was refused admission due to her gender. She was also a committed life-long journalist and a qualified surgical nurse. It's no surprise that she has been decorated with more than 34 awards including the Légion d'Honneur (Chevalier in 1935 and Officier 1949), Croix de Guerre and Médaille de la Résistance. A plaque in her honor as La Fiancée du Danger commemoratives her childhood home in Nancy.
Female aviation was relatively unknown at the time that Marvingt began flying. Amelia Earhart would raise the profile of women aviators, but there was another development that would raise their profile as well — the introduction of the Femina Cup. Pierre Lafitte was the founder of the women's magazine Femina (1901) and in 1910 the magazine loaned its name to the launching of a competition open to only female aviators. The award went to the longest flight in time and distance without landing. Unfortunately Marvingt had technical difficulties that thwarted her efforts to win the Femina Cup. Fellow Francophone aviator Hélène Dutrieu from Belgium was the first woman to win this prize of 2,000 francs.
Marvingt's skills and bravery were evident whether in the air or serving on the front lines during WWI. Schools all over France have streets and schools named after her. She has a stamp in her honor in France and she was named to the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame. As for her writing career, most of her work was nonfiction under the pseudonym Myriel. She was involved in two films during her lifetime, Les Ailes qui Sauvent (the Wings that Save) in 1934 and Sauvés par la Colombe (Saved by the Dove) in 1935.
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