Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Wing Walking Woman Wikified

A few months ago (April 2008) I completed my first significant Wikipedia contribution, a page about the wing walker Lillian Boyer.

I've been meaning to let you, my faithful blog readers, know about this (all three of you) since it represents an interesting slice of U.S. history and the life of a woman who was regularly performing amazing feats way back, when the grandmothers of the extreme sports enthusiasts of today were still in diapers.

What really compelled Lillian Boyer to start hanging off of airplane wings, I can't really say, but I imagine this was her way of expressing herself in an early era of woman's liberation akin to what the flappers were doing, with her own take on the unconventional.

Here's a short history of how her Wikipedia page came to be, in case you're interested:

As I was glancing randomly through a library book brought home by my son Russell when he was in Kindergarten (2006-2007), I happened across a page with an old photograph showing a woman hanging off an airplane wing (can't remember the title of the book, but I think the photo was this one).

It was very useful that Lillian arranged to have her full name plastered in a large, readable font across the body of her stunt plan, since the descriptive text in the book didn't mention her by name at all. It was only by reading her name on the airplane in the photograph that I was able to research her.

I eventually discovered photos of her at The Henry Ford's Heroes of the Sky online exhibit. Googling around the web for "Lillian Boyer" didn't reveal much, and I felt her spirit deserved better recognition. So I created Lillian's initial Wikipedia page (early Jan 2008) with just a little text and some pointers to The Henry Ford site. The article was quickly flagged by Wikipedia as not being sufficiently notable and in danger of getting axed.

So I decided to see if I could get the photos from The Henry Ford into Wikipedia directly. The Henry Ford graciously donated the seven images I requested, and after lots of further research into how exactly to submit them into Wikipedia, the images are now in place and the notability notice on Lillian's page has been removed.

It was quite a learning experience about all the various licenses that can cover different kinds of media in Wikipedia. Initially, I began submitting the photos as public domain by adding them to Wikimedia Commons, since they were taken before 1923. However, since there is some uncertainty in the date of the photos and since The Henry Ford still claims to control copyright on them, I removed them from Wikimedia Commons and submitted to Wikipedia directly under a more appropriate Non-Free/Fair Use license.

The Wikipedia page is quite sparse on her biographical information (compared to another early woman aviator Bessie Coleman, whose life is very well documented). If anyone has more biographical information about the (late?) great Ms. Boyer, please either contribute to her Wikipedia page directly, or let me know and I'll do it.


  1. Wally O'Brien (wallyobrien@msn.com)December 16, 2010 at 5:38:00 PM PST

    Hello. I'd like to talk to you a bit more about your Wikipedia page on MY great-aunt. #1 I obviously have a lot more information on her. I've only added her birth date, birth place, date of death and place of death, since I am not proficient in editing Wikipedia pages. I have also contacted the Henry Ford museum since the photos are listed as being copyrighted by them. Since I have the originals of those photos, and quite a few others, I find that fascinating and a bit disconcerting. There is a LOT more information we can get on the page. Would you like to work together to do it?

  2. I chatted with Wally in Dec 2010, regarding her life post-'20s, and some info about relatives. Fascinating glimpse into the person behind the daredevil, but I didn't collect enough details to write up. I'll have to get back in touch with Wally to get more info and see if he's willing to put images of any of his original photos into the public domain.

    Wally mentioned that the San Diego aviation museum has a display about Lillian, which I have yet to confirm. She passed away in San Diego according to Wally, so this seems reasonable. If so, it should be noted on Lillian's wikipedia page along with a public domain photo of the museum display.