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March 12, 2021

Lady Grace Drummond-Hay, the First Woman to Travel Around the World by Air in a Zeppelin

Lady Grace Drummond-Hay, an English journalist, was the only woman among sixty passengers and crew on the Graf Zeppelin when it flew around the world in 1929. Although she was not an aviator herself at first, she contributed to the glamour of aviation and general knowledge of it, by writing articles about her aerial adventures for US newspapers in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Grace Drummond Hay in engine car of LZ-127.

Born Grace Marguerite Lethbridge on September 12, 1895 in Liverpool, UK, she was the widow of a British diplomat, Sir Robert Hay Drummond-Hay.

As a journalist for the Hearst press organization, Drummond-Hay made her first zeppelin flight in October, 1928, when she was chosen to accompany five other reporters, including her companion and Hearst colleague Karl von Wiegand, on the first transatlantic flight of the Graf Zeppelin from Germany to America. As the only woman on the flight, Drummond-Hay received a great deal of attention in the world’s press.

Lady Drummond-Hay on board the Graf Zeppelin.

Journalists being photographed before a launch of the Graf Zeppelin, left to right: Karl von Wiegand, Lady Drummond-Hay, Rolf Brand, and Robert Hartmann.

In March of 1929, Lady Drummond Hay and von Wiegand were once again aboard Graf Zeppelin, for the ship’s “Orient Flight” to Palestine. Later in 1929 the Hearst organization co-sponsored Graf Zeppelin’s historic Round-the-World flight and their reporter Lady Drummond-Hay was once again a passenger. She was the only woman among the 60 male passengers and crew, which again included her companion von Wiegand. Drummond-Hay’s presence on the flight, and her reporting as the ship circled the globe, garnered tremendous attention in the press.

Lady Drummond Hay’s experience on the Graf Zeppelin’s Round-the-World flight, and her romance with fellow journalist Karl von Wiegand, is the subject of the film Farewell by Dutch filmmaker Ditteke Mensink.

Lady Grace Drummond-Hay and Karl von Wiegand in control car of LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin.

Lady Grace Drummond-Hay and Karl von Wiegand aboard Dornier DO-X flying boat.

Lady Drummond-Hay was also onboard the Hindenburg’s maiden flight from Germany to the United States in May, 1936, along with aviation enthusiast Clara Adams. During the flight, Lady Drummond-Hay wrote and posted a letter to her friend Adams, looking forward to meeting again “as companions in adventure when the next Zeppelin is completed.” The letter is dated May 8, 1936; the age of the passenger zeppelin ended just a year later, with the Hindenburg disaster of May 6, 1937.

Pan American Airways, Lady Drummond-Hay, Wake Island, ca. 1936.

Pan American Airways, Lady Drummond-Hay, Wake Island, ca. 1936.

During World War II, Lady Drummond-Hay and von Wiegand were interned in a Japanese camp in the Philippines. When they were set free in 1943, she was ill and Karl suffered poor eyesight after a bomb blast. They returned to the United States on the Swedish rescue ship the SS Gripsholm in December 1943.

Lady Drummond-Hay died of coronary thrombosis in the Lexington Hotel on February 12, 1946. At her funeral service, many people paid their last respects, including William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies. After she was cremated, her ashes were brought to the United Kingdom by von Wiegand.

Though well known in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Lady Hay Drummond-Hay has been largely forgotten. Her name is mentioned in a number of books on the history of zeppelin flights, but no major biography or other significant document has been written about her life.



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