Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Strong Women in History: From Shampoo Girl to Record Setter

by Suzie Johnson
Have you ever been at an airshow and watched a plane fly across your field of vision as it breaks the sound barrier? It zips past the crowd in complete silence. Just as you realize there’s no noise from the jet engine it disappears from sight, followed by what can best be described as a roaring sonic boom.
 Exciting for those in attendance?
 There’s no doubt about it.

Imagine then, how Jacqueline Cochran likely felt as she became the first woman to break the sound barrier in her F-86 Sabre in 1953; and then again in 1962 when she became the first woman to fly at MACH Two – twice the speed of sound. It must have been an amazing feeling for someone who was so ashamed of her beginnings that she legally changed her name, and then supposedly made up a story about being an orphan.

For the adult Jacqueline, there were a lot of firsts. But this fast-paced, successful lifestyle was far removed from the young “Bessie Pittman’s” childhood.

Jackie Cochran and Chuck Yeager
There are as many conflicting reports on Jackie’s background as you have time to read, making it difficult to know the truth. Was she an orphan? Kidnapped? Raised in foster care? Or was she a girl whose family was so poor, she had to steal chickens so they could eat?

I suspect only Jackie and her family knew the real truth. Some of her family members publicly disputed her claims of being an orphan. It’s even said that her sister was so traumatized by an interview Jackie gave to Life Magazine, that the sister had a nervous breakdown and never really recovered.

Though the truth of her childhood may be in dispute along with her year of birth – anywhere between 1906 and 1910 - her desire to fly, along with the future the young pilot carved for herself, is not.

Jackie was working in a beauty shop, sweeping floors and learning how to give permanents when a customer supposedly inspired her to become whatever she wanted. She is said to have attended nursing school, met her future husband either in New York or Miami, and somewhere in-between earned her pilot’s license.

Once she had that license she never looked back, and from here on out her history cannot be disputed.

Distinguished Service
She won air races, flew with Amelia Earhart, served in the British Auxiliary Transport Service, was instrumental in FDR’s formation of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs), became the first woman to win the Distinguished Service Medal, and even convinced her good friend Dwight Eisenhower to run for president. She also convinced Walt Disney to create a cartoon as part of Eisenhower’s presidential campaign.

And while she was at it, Jackie found time to set air speed records and start a cosmetics company. When she could no longer fly, she bought an RV and was said to have driven it all over the country. After her husband died, she rode her bicycle in her garden.

Jackie was driven, and the stories about her are varied but exciting. They’re also sad. In all my reading about this remarkable woman, I found no mention of faith or spirituality. It makes me sad to think of someone living their life with such eagerness and zest but not having a heart for God. I don’t know that she didn’t. I’m not stating she didn’t. I just know if she did, I can find no documentation of it.

The optimistic part of me wants to hope she did have a spiritual life and that this woman with such desire for a high-octane life is flying somewhere in Heaven.  

True North is Suzie Johnson’s second novel. Her first novel, No Substitute, a contemporary inspirational novel, is out now from White Rose Press of The Pelican Book Group. She is a regular contributor to the Inkwell Inspirations blog, a member of ACFW, RWA, and is the cancer registrar at her local hospital. Suzie and her husband live in the Pacific Northwest with their naughty little cat on an island that is definitely not tropical. Together, they are the parents of a wonderful grown son who makes them proud every day – even though he lives way too far away. You can visit Suzie at the following places:


  1. I've done some research on Jackie Cochran for a story I've been working on. She was truly a dynamo and actually led the WASPs after they were formed. A gallant group of young women for sure.

    Thanks for sharing more about her background, I hadn't really looked at either her history or what happened to her after the war.

  2. Lisa, if you go to Eisenhower's presidential page and click on resources, she's under there and there are so many documents and letters, including the letter announcing her distinguished medal, letters from Disney and Nixon. Also, there are a couple of books she's written. I'm going to try and get them next time we go to the museum of flight.

  3. Exciting and inspiring post, Suzie.

    She reminds me of a movie I saw years ago - 70's or 80's. With Stockard Channing? Or was that a speed-racing one on wheels?

  4. I didn't know that Suzie, that's really cool!

  5. This is good stuff, Suzie! And another reason why authors can make up a lot of stuff that seems 'contrived' when in fact, real life is stranger!

    I bet that now that I've heard of her I'll see her name pop up more.
    Thanks for a great post!

  6. While I hope Jackie had her eyes & heart set on God, as I do for all, I admire her courageousness and daring zest for life. Makes me want to take more brave pills :)

  7. Wow, she was quite a lady! Suzie, you always share such interesting things with us. I'd never heard of her before.

    You said it, Deb. Some true stories would never sell if someone thought them up. :)

  8. Sorry ladies. My work day was kind of huge today.

    Anita, I don't know if I saw that movie. But Stockard Channing is funny.

  9. There was so much more about her - it just wouldn't fit in one blog post. :)

  10. You're right, Deb. I could tell you some stories that no one would ever believe was true, and no editor would touch because it wouldn't sound believable.

  11. Oh, Elaine, those brave pills - I need some, too. Especially when my son wants to take me on huge twisty fast roller coasters.

  12. Thanks, Susie. You always share interesting things, too! I honestly can't remember if I'd ever heard of her before I saw books about her at the flight museum. I've always loved learning about historical women.

  13. Its like you learn my mind! You seem to understand a
    lot about this, such as you wrote the guide in it or
    something. I think that you could do with some percent
    to power the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is wonderful blog.
    A fantastic read. I will certainly be back.

    Visit my web-site - Cheap Oakleys


Share This Post

How Our Giveaways Work: The Official Rules

We, the ladies of Inkwell Inspirations, would love to give free stuff to everybody. Since we can't, we will often have a giveaway in conjunction with a specific post. Unless otherwise stated, one winner will be drawn from comments left on that post between the date it was published and the end of the giveaway as determined in the post. Entries must be accompanied by a valid email address. This address is used only to contact the commenter in the event that he/she is the winner, and will not be sold, distributed, or used in any other fashion. The odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. NO PURCHASE, PLEDGE, OR DONATION NECESSARY TO ENTER OR TO WIN. ALL FEDERAL, STATE, LOCAL AND MUNICIPAL LAWS AND REGULATIONS APPLY. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED.