Celebrating Lilian Bland on International Women’s Day

Many thanks to guest blogger Claire Williams for contributing the below post! Claire is a graduate student at UBC’s iSchool (School of Library, Archival and Information Studies) and the processed the Lilian Bland fonds as part of her role as an archives and reference assistant at Rare Books and Special Collections.

Lilian Bland is widely recognized as the first women to design, construct, and fly her own aircraft. She was also an avid photographer, journalist, marks-woman, equestrian, motorist, and an early settler of Northern Vancouver Island.

Rare Books and Special Collections acquired a collection of her photographs, many of which are glass negatives and glass lantern slides, documenting her life from Europe to her home-stead in Quatsino, to California, and back again.

In addition, a copy of her autobiography was donated to RBSC providing a rare account of Bland’s experiences in her own words, documenting the course of her eventful life. Below are a few selections from the fonds, showcasing a selection of Lilian’s many feats and adventures.

Lilian the Equestrian

“As I got a name for being able to ride anything, farmers would bring me horses to try out hunting, and I applied for a license to the Jockey Club in the hope of being able to ride in races, but was refused. I think I was the first lady to apply.”

In addition to ‘riding anything’ Lilian published several articles on horses and horseback riding in Country Life Tatler, and a variety of other magazines including some in French and German. She often included her own photography in these publications, and/or photographs of her riding.

Lilian the Motorwoman

In 1925 Lillian drove her husband, her cousin, and their two children from California back to Vancouver in a Model-T ford, camping on the way.

“I had the trusty Ford in which the seats would turn into two beds, and a tent hooked on the side. A large kettle was slung behind, a roll of blankets on the mud-guard, the blue Jay in his cage, two children and the three of us, and left California for a 1,000 mile trip to Vancouver.”

Lilian had driven a Model-T in Britain which her father had purchased her as enticement to give up her airplane, which he considered much more dangerous.

Lilian the Pilot

In 1910, Lillian designed and built her plane the MayFly.

“My uncle sent me a postcard from France illustrating the monoplane and giving its dimensions. This was the final spark to my ambition to fly, something I had not tackled yet. I would make a machine and fly it!”

The Lilian Bland fonds can be viewed in the Rare Books and Special Collections reading room starting in mid-March 2019. The RBSC reading room is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, please contact Rare Books and Special Collections at (604) 822-2521 or rare.books@ubc.ca.