Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas!!

Love came down at Christmas
Image taken at Walt Disney World by J.Q. Rose
Our Greatest Need

If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator.
If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist.
If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist.
If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer.
But our greatest need was forgiveness and acceptance, so God sent us a Savior.
--Author Unknown

Wishing you all the hope, peace, love, and joy of this Christmas season!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Trailblazer: Aida de Acosta, the First Woman Aero-driver in the World

                        Telling Herstories: Fascinating Women History Forgot 
by Carol Simon Levin
© Carol Simon Levin 2013

Aida de Acosta: the New Jersey Girl
who became the "First Woman Aero-driver in the World!"

Aida de Costa Breckinridge can be seen
at the controls of Alberto Santos -Dumont's powered
 "run-about balloon"over the skies of Paris on June 29,1903.
Image from
            One hundred and ten years ago on December 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers made their famous first flight -- launching their fragile airplane on a beach in Kitty Hawk and showing that controlled, powered, heavier-than-air flight was possible (at least for 59 seconds!) 
            But did you know that more than five months before the Wright Brother’s flight, a Cuban-American girl from Long Branch, New Jersey became the first woman in the world to pilot a motorized aircraft?
            During the summer of 1903, Miss Aida de Acosta was visiting Paris with some school friends when she saw a most curious contraption -- a personal dirigible being driven by its inventor, a Brazilian by the name of Alberto Santos-Dumont.  Long before the cartoon Jetsons depicted personal aero-cars, Alberto Santos-Dumont traversed city boulevards in his “Runabout IX” a steerable, motorized balloon running errands -- traveling between his cafe, his personal jeweler Louis Cartier, and his hat-shop (putting out frequent fires on the airship was hard on hats!)  Sometimes when he reached a cafe, he would tether the dirigible on a lamppost and ask the waiters to send up a cup of coffee or glass of champagne!
            Aida was fascinated by his aero-ship and asked for lessons. Mr. Santos-Dumont agreed to teach her with the dirigible tethered in the hanger.  Since the machine had only one seat, he shouted out instructions from the ground.  He showed her how to steer the rudder, shift ballast,  drop weights, and use the three speed lever to work the propellers.  After three lessons, he pronounced her ready for a real flight. 
            June 29th, 1903 dawned clear and windless and, with his typical showmanship, Alberto decided the important polo match being held that day at the Bagatelle Polo Grounds would make a perfect destination.  He would ride below the balloon on a girl’s bicycle (so as not to catch  his opera cloak on a middle bar!) and give directions with a handkerchief, signaling left and right, and waving in circles to indicate when she should rev up the motor.  After Aida climbed into the wicker basket and wedged in her full skirt, he tied a rip cord to her wrist telling her that if she flew too high and was frightened, she could let out some of the air and, if she were to faint, the cord would release the air from the gas bag and she would come down to earth.  
            He needn’t have worried. Aida flew the Runabout perfectly across Paris and through the countryside.   Alberto Santos-Dumont actually guided her into a landing  on the polo field, briefly interrupting the game and causing considerable excitement.  She loved the trip, remarking, “I stopped the petrol motor and came down like a feather.  I’ve never had so much fun in my life.”  
            Alberto greeted her, "Mademoiselle, vous êtes la première aero-chauffeuse du monde!" ("Miss, you are the first woman aero-driver in the world!")  After the game, ignoring objections from the crowds and warnings from friends, Aida flew back to Paris. 
            Aida had interrupted an important polo match and the press gathered there were both fascinated and outraged that a woman should be driving this aero-machine.  Her parents were not pleased, to say the least.   They firmly believed that a respectable woman should appear in the newspapers only three times -- when she was born, married and when she died. They threatened to ruin Santos-Dumont if he leaked her name to the press and to disinherit her if she continued flying.  Accordingly, Santos-Dumont in his memoirs described her as “the heroine, a young and very pretty Cuban,  prominent in New York Society.” 
            Aida stopped flying, but never stopped being fascinated by the men who flew.  In the late 1920’s, she became friends with Charles Lindbergh and ended up marrying his lawyer, Charles Breckenridge.  But even he didn’t know about her adventure.   The story only came to light in 1932 when the couple was hosting a dinner party and a young Naval officer started to talk about the possibilities of lighter-than-air flying vehicles. Aida astonished the guests when she remarked, “ I’ve flown dirigibles myself; they are a lot of fun!”   Her story was published in Sportsman Pilot in 1933.

            Aida de Acosta was the only person Alberto Santos-Dumont ever permitted to fly any of his aircraft.   After the flight, Aida returned to New York City.  She married and divorced twice.  Later in life, after losing the sight in one of her eyes to glaucoma,  she founded and became director of the first eye bank in America.
            Alberto never married and kept a picture of Aida on his desk next to a vase of flowers all his life -- but there is no indication that they ever spoke or wrote again.   On November 12, 1906, he made the world’s first public airplane flight (the Wright Brothers had flown in secret, fearing they’d lose their patent designs).  He flew for twenty seconds --  the first pilot to lift off and land a completely self-propelled airplane.  Accordingly, some people consider Santos-Dumont the real “father of flight” since the Wright Brothers’ plane required high winds and a rail system to launch. 
            One final piece of trivia: In 1904, after Alberto complained that he couldn’t pull out his pocket watch to check his flying time while steering, his friend Louis Cartier created the one of the world’s first wristwatches so that the flyer could keep track of his flying time.  Cartier still sells “Santos-Dumont” models to this day.

For more information, see Paul Hoffman’s Wings of Madness: Alberto Santos-Dumont and the Invention of Flight (2003) pp 212–217 and this article: Eugene Register-Guard Aug. 12, 1953..  For a very entertaining look at Alberto Santos-Dumont and his eccentric ways and flying machines (though lacking any mention of Aida’s flight), check out Victoria’s  Griffith’s picture book biography: The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont (2011).

Carol Simon Levin is a librarian at the Somerset County Library and a member of the New Jersey Storyteller’s Network. She impersonates forgotten women in presentations at libraries, senior centers, and other venues.   For further information, write her at  For more information about early female aviators, go to

Check out more articles by Carol Simon Levin on the Girls Succeed blog:

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Truly The Christmas Spirit Wrapped Up in this Little Girl's Heart

One little girl, Claire, has shared the spirit of Christmas through a wonderful gift to her parents (and to us.) Claire's holiday kindergarten program was a special occasion for her and for her parents. Although her parents are deaf, Claire wanted them to enjoy  the performance as much as she does in participating in singing the songs. She surprised her parents by using sign language to interpret the words to the songs the kids sang. Take a look at this lively gal and her joy in performing and sharing this holiday concert with her parents.

Lori Koch posted this marvelous video on You Tube
 so everyone can enjoy the thoughtful gift from her daughter--
experiencing this performance.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Computer Pioneer: Grace Hopper

Happy birthday to Grace Hopper, a computer scientist and  Rear Admiral in the United States Navy.Today on the Google home page, Grace Hopper is remembered on her 107th birthday. What did she do to earn a special doodle on Google?
Image courtesy of thepathtraveler at
Grace worked on the Mark 1 computer at Harvard University, the first computer ever! She was in charge of programming it. At the time noone believed computers would ever be able to communicate with words since they were programmed with numbers only. But Grace changed that by developing a language for computers so they could "speak" English and use numbers. Her program eventually became the COBOL programming business language used today.

She was also the one who coined the phrase "a bug in the system" because while working on the Mark 1, a co-worker discovered a moth within the computer. This "bug" caused one of the circuits to malfunction. Grace took the moth and taped it into her logbook. This page along with her records on the first computer  is on display at the U.S. Naval Surface Weapons Center in Dahlgren, Va.

By the way, this machine does not resemble the computers we see today. Instead, it was almost as long as a semi-truck's trailer, 51 feet, 8 feet tall, and 8 feet wide.

Mark 1 Computer
Learn more about this creative scientist, at the Yale page highlighting Grace Hopper's career. 
Go to to see the Google Doodle honoring Grace Hopper and to pull up lots more information on this amazing woman/sailor.

Do you use a computer? Do you have a dream to develop new computers or programs? I would love to hear from you. Best wishes on working toward your dream job!

Monday, December 2, 2013

World Record Holders: 63 Awesome Women Sky Dive Into the World Record Books

Talk about Girls Succeeding! These 63 awesome women set a sky diving record for the largest all-female formation free-falling in the skies over Arizona. Diving head first at 165 mph this amazing skydiving team worked together
 to form an unforgettable star in the heavens. 

Lindsay Janis of ABC News reporting.

Can you imagine yourself doing this? 
What do you dream of achieving in your life? You can do it!