Jackie Cochran was born Bessie Mae Pittman in 1906 in Muscogee, a thriving lumber town on the border between Florida and Alabama, west of Cantonment. As a child, Jackie moved from place to place then spent time in this mill town with her adopted family.
She became a beautician and decided that the name Bessie Mae Pittman wasn’t sophisticated enough, so she looked in the phone book and picked out a better name - Jacqueline Cochran. At one time she worked in a beauty shop in downtown Pensacola. From there she rose to become one of history’s most accomplished female aviators. She learned to fly in 1932 while working as a cosmetics sales person. Her future husband Floyd Odlum had told Cochran that flying would help her get a leg up on her competition.
A few accomplishments:
- Flew in the London, England to Melbourne, Australia race in 1934
- In 1935, became the first woman to fly in the Bendix Trophy Race, which she won in 1938
- Became the first woman to make a blind instrument landing in 1937
- Set new women’s records during 1939-40, in altitude and open class speed plus the New York to Miami race
- She founded the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) program during WWII, and received the Distinguished Service Medal.
- Was the first woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic Ocean
- Received the Harmon Trophy in 1950 as the Aviatrix of the Decade
- In 1953, became the first woman to exceed the speed of sound
- In 1962, became the first woman to fly a jet, subsequently setting 73 records in three years and exceeded Mach 2 in 1964