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7 of History's Most Fearless Female Daredevils

May 30, 2019 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Whether on wheels or in the air, these thrill seekers achieved feats few others would attempt.

From the first-ever Hollywood stuntwoman to the first lady of drag racing, these seven intrepid women stunned audiences with their death-defying feats. With their gutsy performances in traditionally male-dominated fields like aviation and extreme sports, they’re known for breaking barriers, setting records—and getting our adrenaline pumping.

READ MORE: 7 Death-Defying Historic American Daredevils

Bessie Coleman: Pioneering Black Aviatrix

Bessie Coleman, circa 1920.

While working as a beautician in Chicago, Texas-born Bessie Coleman was inspired to become a pilot by the daring exploits of World War I aviators. U.S. flight schools turned her down due to her gender and race, but Coleman headed to France, where in 1921 she received her international pilot’s license. The first black American woman to perform publicly in the United States, “Queen Bess” wowed crowds at air shows around the country with stunts like “loop-the-loops” and figure-eights, as well as parachute jumps. Tragically, she was killed in 1926 when her plane malfunctioned during a test flight before a Florida air show, and she was thrown from an open cockpit to the ground, several hundred feet below.

Helen Gibson: Rodeo Performer & Hollywood’s First Stuntwoman

Helen Gibson in the 1916 movie, “To Save the Road.”

Born Rose Wenger in Cleveland, Ohio, Gibson joined a Wild West show in 1910, at the age of 18, learning to pick up a handkerchief from the ground while riding a galloping horse. In the show’s off-season, she started working in silent films and rode in Los Angeles rodeos, where she met and married cowboy Hoot Gibson. At the time, men in drag typically performed stunts for female actors, but Gibson became the first-ever professional Hollywood stuntwoman when she doubled (and later replaced) Helen Holmes in the long-running serial Hazards of Helen, performing such feats as leaping from the roof of a building onto the top of a moving train car (a stunt she would call her most dangerous). Her star power had dimmed by the 1920s, but Gibson did bit parts and stunt-double work in Hollywood for three more decades, appearing in her last film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, in 1962.

Lillian La France: Motorcycle Stunt Racer

The Wall of Death Motor Drome, similar to where Lillian La France would perform her stunts.

Around 1916, young Agnes Micek fled …read more


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