Aida Marta (De Acosta) Root Breckinridge
Born - Jul. 28, 1884 Elberon, Monmouth County, New Jersey
Died - May 28, 1962, Bedford, Westchester County, New York
From the New York Times 29 May 1962
”Mrs. Aida de Acosta Breckinridge, executive director of the Eye-Bank for Sight Restoration for its first ten years, died yesterday in her home on Baldwin Road. Her age was 80.
Mrs. Breckinridge had been a leader in many causes, the most dramatic of which was the eye bank. It provides a center where human corneas can be stored until they are transplanted. From 1945 until she retired in 1955, it had received 4,500 human eyes. In a large percentage of the corneal graft operations sight was restored.
It was the first such center here, but other cities now have similar banks.
Mrs. Breckinridge was born in Elberon, N.J., and attended the Sacred Heart Convent in Paris. It was there in 1903 that she became the first woman to solo in a powered balloon. She had been instructed by a young Brazilian, Alberto Santos-Dumont, and flew five miles while he signaled directions to her from the ground.
Mrs. Breckinridge was rushed home by her parents, and her reputation as the first woman pilot was quickly obscured in welfare activities, beginning with a milk fund for New York children. During World War I, she sold $2,000,000 in Liberty Bonds; and after the armistice worked abroad for the American committee for Devastated France.
Shortly after she returned to the United States her eyesight began to fail because of glaucoma. The disease was partially alleviated by Dr. William Howard Wilmer of Washington. During her convalescence, she began a campaign to further his research.
Through former patients and friends, she led a campaign that raised $3,000,000 to establish the Wilmer Opthalmological Institute at Johns Hopkins University, as a teaching and research center, and the first eye institute in the country.
Mrs. Breckinridge then became director of publications and promotion for the Child Health Association. In this capacity she initiated the idea of celebrating May 1 as Child Health Day. It was first proclaimed by President Coolidge in 1928.
In 1935, Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia named her chairman of a new Municipal Art Committee, formed to “stimulate the artistic life and expression of the city.” For the next five years, she promoted exhibits in a municipal art gallery, operas in city schools, and song contests, and edited the city’s art magazine called “Exhibition.” She also edited a calendar of the city’s first Summer Festival, listing the city’s cultural activities. She headed the committee until 1939.
Mrs. Breckinridge also was a former director of the Frontier Nursing Service, of the medical service division of the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor and of the New York committee of the National War Fund. As director of the space and advertising of the American Red Cross, she persuaded advertisers to promote the Red Cross.
In 1940, Mrs. Breckinridge was chairman of the women’s division of the Associated Wilkie Clubs of America, which aided the unsuccessful Presidential campaign of Wendell L. Wilkie.
Her first marriage, to Oren Root, ended in divorce. In 1927 she was married to Henry Breckinridge, a lawyer and a former Assistant Secretary of War. This marriage also ended in divorce.
Surviving are a son, Oren Root, and a daughter, Mrs. Charles H. Bound (Alva Root).”
Aida was the sister of Rita Lydig and Mercedes de Acosta.
Balloon Flight –
On June 27, 1903 in Paris, at the age of nineteen, Brazilian pioneer aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont showed her how to operate his personal dirigible, “No. 9”. Santos-Dumont was the toast of Paris at the time, flying his dirigible downtown to his favorite restaurant and parking it on the street while he had dinner. Acosta flew Santos-Dumont’s aircraft solo from Paris to Château de Bagatelle while Santos-Dumont rode his bicycle along below, waving his arms and shouting advice.
Acosta later recalled that upon her first landing, Santos-Dumont asked her how she had fared. “It is very nice, M. Santos-Dumont,” she replied. “Mademoiselle," he cried, "vous êtes la première aero-chauffeuse du monde!" ("Miss, you are the first woman aero-driver in the world!"). She was in fact the first woman to pilot any kind of motorized aircraft, nearly six months before the Wright brothers first flew in a heavier-than-air powered aircraft.
The first flight ended in the polo field at Bagatelle at the northern end of the Bois de Boulogne, during a match between the American team and the British team. Spectators assisted her from the basket. After watching some polo with Santos-Dumont, Acosta climbed back into the basket and flew the machine back to Neuilly St. James, the entire trip lasting one and a half hours.
Hearing about the flight, her parents were appalled. They were certain that no man would marry a woman who had done such a thing, so they managed to hush it all up until many years later when in the 1930s she recounted the story to her husband and a young naval officer named Lieutenant George Calnan over dinner.
Acosta is the only person that Santos-Dumont ever permitted to fly any of his many aircraft. Also, Santos-Dumont, a lifelong bachelor with no known romantic ties, kept a photograph of Acosta on his desk, next to a vase of fresh flowers, for the rest of his life. Nonetheless, there is no indication that Santos-Dumont and Acosta stayed in touch after her flight. Upon Santos-Dumont’s death Acosta was reported as saying that she hardly knew the man.
Source: "Women in Transportation: Changing America’s History, Reference Materials" (pdf). U.S. Department of Transportation. March 1998. p. 10.
"She Beat Wright Bros. - American Girl Flew First Powered Aircraft". Eugene Register-Guard. Aug 12, 1953.
Parents - Ricardo De Acosta (1837 - 1907) and Micaela Hernandez De Alba Y De Alba De Acosta (1853 - 1921)
Oren Root Jr. (1838 - 1907)
Henry Skillman Breckinridge (1886 - 1960)
Siblings (in birth order)
Joaquin Ignacio De Acosta (1870 - 1886)
Rita Hernandez de Alba De Acosta Lydig (1875 - 1929)
Maria Cecelia De Acosta Chanler (1880 - 1970)
Ricardo Miguel De Acosta (1881 - 1945)
Aida Marta De Acosta Breckinridge (1884 - 1962)
Enrique Jose De Acosta (1886 - 1911)
Angela Aloysius De Acosta Shaw (1891 - 1978)
Mercedes de Acosta (1893 - 1968)