Bessica Medlar Raiche (1875 – 1932)

Bessica Faith Raiche née Medlar, known as Bessie Raiche, (April 1875 – 11 April 1932) was a dentist, businesswoman, and physician, who was the first woman in the United States accredited with flying solo in an airplane. Her accomplishment, although dimmed by the existence of another flight by a US female earlier in the month, is still impressive because she had received no flight instruction or experience prior to her flight!

Raiche was born in April 1875 in Beloit, Wisconsin. Her mother, Elizabeth, was from New Hampshire, and her father, James B. Medlar, was from New York. She had a sister: Alice M. Medlar (1879-?). In 1880 the family was living in Rockford, Illinois, and she was using the name “Bessie F. Medler”. Raiche was a proto-feminist, she drove an automobile and wore bloomers. She was also a musician, painter, and linguist, and participated in swimming and shooting. In 1900 she was working as a dentist and living in New Hampton, New Hampshire, renting a room under the name Faith Medlar. She married François “Frank” C. Raiche (1874-?) of New Hampshire and they moved to Mineola, New York. Frank’s parents were both from France.

She and her husband built a Wright type biplane in their living room and then assembled it in their yard. The Raiches constructed their flyer from bamboo and silk instead of a heavier canvas covering used by the Wright brothers. On September 16, 1910, in her homemade flyer at Hempstead Plains, New York, Bessica Raiche made the first solo airplane flight by a woman in the United States to be accredited by the Aeronautical Society of America. Blanche Stuart Scott had flown solo earlier the same month but her flight was less well documented and arguably not an intentional flight. Raiche said:

“Blanche deserved the recognition, but I got more attention because of my lifestyle. I drove an automobile, was active in sports like shooting and swimming, and I even wore riding pants and knickers. People who did not know me or understand me looked down on this behavior. I was an accomplished musician, painter and linguist, I enjoyed life, and just wanted to be myself.”

On 13 October 1910, Bessica Raiche was awarded a diamond-studded gold medal inscribed “First Woman Aviator in America” by Hudson Maxim of the Aeronautical Society of America at a dinner the society held in her honor.

Bessica and François Raiche went on to build two more airplanes as part of the French-American Aeroplane Company. They were innovators in the use of lighter weight materials in aircraft construction, including the use of piano wire to replace heavier iron wire.

In 1915 the Raiches had a daughter: Catherine E. Raiche (1915-1995). In 1920 the Raiches were living in Newport Beach, California. Bessica was a physician, one of the first women specialists in obstetrics and gynecology in the United States, and Frank was practising as a lawyer. In 1923 Bessica served as president of the Orange County Medical Association. In 1930 she was living in Santa Ana, California.

On April 11, 1932, Raiche died in her sleep in Balboa Island, Newport Beach, California, of a heart attack.