Raise your hand if you know who the first woman to fly around the world is.
Now, put them down if you answered anything but Jerrie Mock.
What? There are only two of you who could keep your hands up? Yes, thank you Mom and cousin Chris for showing up. I appreciate it!
All right. I might be a little snarky on this, but the reality is one of aviation’s pioneers is practically unfamiliar to the world. And I’ve been battling that lack of exposure my whole life.
I remember the first time my teachers tried to tell me that Amelia Earhart was the first woman to pilot a plane around the world.
I was furious.
Which shocked my teachers, since I was the teacher’s pet (i.e. never spoke back and always got my homework in on time). But they were wrong. And I wasn’t going to tolerate it.
“Excuse me, Mrs. McIntosh, but my grandma was the first woman to fly around the world, not Amelia Earhart. She disappeared and never made it.”
My teachers were unbelieving of me until I brought in the newspaper clippings, photos, and some of Grandma’s memorabilia from her flight — things like medals given to her by President Linden B. Johnson, for example.
My teachers kind of had to believe me then.
And I’ve been telling her story ever since.
My grandmother was a stubborn woman who had three dreams in life. At an early age she decided she wanted to fly around the world, ride a camel in the desert, and ride an elephant. She acheived two of those dreams. And one day, I plan to achieve the last for her and hop on an elephant in India.
She pursued a degree in aviation science, but left her education path to get married and have children. Because, well, that’s what you did in the 1940s (if you were crazy enough to even “try” college at all as a woman). She didn’t give up on piloting, though, and she and Grandpa Russell took up piloting lessons together later on.
But in the early 60s, Grandma let it be known she was bored with life as a “housewife.” She had already been doing some pioneering things in the entertainment industry (like filming football games for Ohio State), but she couldn’t get it out of her heart that she wanted to pilot her away around the globe.
“So do it already, Woman!” Grandpa thumped his fist on the dinner table one night.
“Fine! I will!” Grandma responded.
With Grandpa’s assistance through his advertising career, she gained sponsors for her flight. Specifically the Columbus Dispatch and Champion Sparkplugs (my mother still has the jewelry made for Grandma from some of those sparkplugs).
And on March 19, 1964, Jerrie Mock took off on her world-record taking flight around the world.
She had many adventures that you can read about in her book Three-Eight-Charlie and in some upcoming posts and articles I’ll be writing this year.
On April 17, she landed back in Columbus Ohio to a large crowd thrilled to receive the now first woman to fly around the world.
I’ve grown up with the stories my whole life. And I’ve always been inspired in my travels by her encouragement and dreaming. She never tried to push her dreams on me to be a pilot or anything — though she did dream for me to make it to more countries than she did and I share that dream — but she always encouraged me instead to pursue my own dreams and to believe that I am capable of anything.
Afterall, if she, a “housewife” from the Midwest could pilot a single-engine Cessna solo around the world in 29 days battling sand storms, sabotage — I’m not making this crap up! — and a compass off by 10 degrees, then I can do anything I put my heart to. And I have. And I will continue doing so.