She was only 20 years old when she first flew with an aeroplane. She was not ashamed of wearing a leather jacket, boots and a pilot’s helmet — a young and strong woman who served as a nurse during World War I. She is Lilly Steinschneider, the first ever Hungarian airwoman.
She was born on 13th January 1893 in Budapest in a wealthy Austrian-Hungarian-Jewish family. Her father Bernát Steinschneider was a wealthy owner of a quilt factory, and her mother Irma Wohr had Czech origins. According to parish registers, Lilly was the second child born in the Steinschneider family. She had a brother called Hugó Steinschneider, but there is not much known about him. The family’s life-long duty was to provide quilt covers for the House of Habsburg in Austria. The first eighteen years of Lilly’s life remain a mystery, but historians assume that she finished secondary school as any other regular student back in that time.
The summer of 1910 was the most significant in Steinschneider’s life. The annual International Aeroplane Festival took place in Budapest where the young girl fell in love with flying and aeroplanes and decided to dedicate her life to become a pilot.
After her successful motor vehicle exam, she started to learn how to become a pilot. Coming from a wealthy family Steinschneider was not affected by financial difficulties and with the support of her father she could go the distance. First, she travelled with famous pilots to see how to fly an aeroplane. She succeeded in the first part of her pilot exam in Wiener Neustadt, where her teacher was Karl Illner, Austria’s most famous aeroplane pilot. The second part of her exam was on 15th August 1912, where besides Karl Illner, Lieutenant Kirsch, the leader of the Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops, and Captain Uzelac were also present. After the successful exam, Steinschneider and Captain Uzelac flew together up to 1800 meters. Her performance and her insight into flying astonished many people.
On 6th October 1912 in Nagyvárad, she took off with her plane, which was her first public flying after her exams. After her safe landing, the 2000 people who gathered together to watch Steinschneider’s flying gave her an amazing ovation.
“Beautiful flying. Steinschneider spends 31 minutes up in the air and lands beautifully on the ground. The crowd rushes towards her aeroplane, puts Steinschneider on their shoulders and brings her to the aeroplane hangar where her master, Karl Illner jumps into her arms and kisses her wildly. People jump over the cordons and request an autograph from the young woman. That’s why Pál Teleki (prime minister of the Kingdom of Hungary) hardly can get through the crowd to congratulate.” – wrote local newspaper Nagyváradi Napló on 8th October 1912.
In 1913 she took part in a competition held in Budapest where she won the first prize in the category of the fastest pilot and second prize in the category of long-distance flying. While landing with the aeroplane she accidentally hit a sand mound, which broke her plane. Luckily, she did not get injured.
Steinschneider’s carrier was interrupted by World War I. She wanted to join the Imperial Forces as a pilot, but her father did not approve of her idea. She served as a nurse during the war. In 1914 she got married to Count Johannes von Ronspergheim and moved to his estate in the Czech Republic.
After the war ended, civil aviation became prohibited, which meant that Steinschneider did not have the opportunity to fly anymore. In 1927 she gave birth to her first child Maria Electa Thecla Elisabeth Christina Helena Sophia.
In 1939 she and her daughter moved to Italy from the Czech Republic to avoid the terror of Nazi Germany. They lived in poor circumstances.
One of the most famous and outstanding Hungarian women died at her age of 86 in 1977, although some historians state that she died two years earlier in Geneva. But one thing is for sure: a street in Wiener Neustadt, where the first Hungarian airwoman took her first exam, was named after Steinschneider.
Featured image: www.honvedelem.hu