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Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home
200 S.E. 4th Street
PO Box 339
Abilene, KS 67410
785-263-6700 or 877 RING IKE
eisenhower.library@nara.gov

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Jacqueline Cochran and the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs)

 

Jacqueline Cochran, cosmetics executive and world-famous aviatrix, was the product of obscure origins. Born Bessie Pittman about 1906 in northwest Florida, she was the youngest of five children of Ira and Mary (Grant) Pittman. The Pittmans were an impoverished family that moved from one town to another in search of work. Even as a child, Bessie possessed an unusual amount of drive and ambition. She resented the limited opportunities available to her in such an environment, especially after she was told the Pittmans were not her real parents, but had merely raised her from infancy. At an early age Bessie left home and changed her name to “Jacqueline Cochran.” Although she renounced the Pittman name, and never publicly revealed the identity of her foster family, she remained in contact with her foster parents and later contributed to the support of their children and grandchildren.

After briefly studying to be a nurse, Ms. Cochran obtained a job in a beauty parlor in Pensacola, Florida. In 1932 she was working as a beautician in an exclusive store in New York City. Shortly thereafter, she began developing her own line of cosmetics. In the mid-thirties, she founded her own company, Jacqueline Cochran Incorporated.

Although her cosmetics business brought her widespread recognition, Ms. Cochran is chiefly remembered for her aeronautical activities. In 1932, while living in New York City, a friend offered her a ride in an airplane. Entranced by the flight, Ms. Cochran took flying lessons and made her first solo flight after only a few hours instruction. She later bought her own plane and flew it around the country while developing her cosmetics business.

From her earliest days as a pilot, Ms. Cochran was interested in air racing. During the 1930s, she entered as many races as she could. The first was the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race from London to Melbourne, Australia. She also entered the annual National Air Races and in 1938 became the first woman to win the prestigious Bendix Trophy.

Ms. Cochran’s racing activities in the 1930s brought her a wide acquaintance among the famous pilots of the day. An especially close friend was Amelia Earhart who spent several days relaxing at Ms. Cochran’s ranch prior to departing on her ill-fated flight around the world in 1937. Other friends who were famous pilots included Ben Howard, Paul Mantz, Tex Rankin and Roscoe Turner. Ms. Cochran was also active in various aeronautical organizations, particularly the National Aeronautical Association (NAA), and the Ninety-Nines, a group of professional women pilots.

By 1941 Jacqueline Cochran was one of the most famous women pilots in the United States.  Keenly aware of the Nazi threat to Europe, she approached the U.S. Army Air Corps and suggested the possibility of using women as ferry pilots in wartime. When her initial proposals were turned down she went to England (becoming in the process the only woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic in World War II) and volunteered her services to the Royal Air Force. For several months she worked for the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), a branch of the Royal Air Force. Her work involved recruiting qualified women pilots in the United States and taking them to England where they joined the ATA.

In 1942, following U.S. entry into World War II, the Air Force recognized the need for additional pilots. Ms. Cochran’s earlier proposals were resurrected and she was invited back to the U.S. to head a program for training women pilots. As head of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) she supervised the training of over one thousand women, many of whom performed distinguished service flying experimental Air Force planes.

Jacqueline Cochran’s interest and involvement in politics led to a close friendship with Dwight D. Eisenhower. In February 1952 she helped sponsor a massive rally on General Eisenhower’s behalf at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The rally was recorded and Ms. Cochran flew the film to France for a special showing at General Eisenhower’s headquarters. The show of support was a major factor in convincing General Eisenhower to run for president in 1952.

During the 1952 campaign Ms. Cochran persuaded employees at Walt Disney Studios to produce an animated cartoon in support of Eisenhower’s candidacy. She attended the Republican National Convention in Chicago in July and assisted with arrangements for General Eisenhower’s visit to Los Angeles in October. Dwight Eisenhower appreciated Ms. Cochran’s efforts and remained a close friend for the rest of his life. He frequently vacationed at Ms. Cochran’s ranch in California and wrote portions of his memoirs there after leaving office.

Letter and Survey to all women holders of licenses, July 29, 1941 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, WASP Series, Box 2, Survey of Women Pilots July 1941; NAID #120044061]

Air Transport Auxiliary Agreement, January 24, 1942 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, Air Transport Auxiliary Series, Box 5, ATA Agreement; NAID #12004375]

Memorandum regarding Requirement for Ferry Pilots, September 11, 1942 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, WASP Series, Box 2, Studies & Plan for Establishing Air Transport & Ferrying Service; NAID #12004407]

Press release regarding Jacqueline Cochran's appointment as Director of Women's Flying Training, September 14, 1942 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, WASP Series, Box 13, Press Releases (1); NAID #12004380]

Memo regarding Hiring Civilian Women Pilots, September 15, 1942 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, WASP Series, Box 12, Establishment of WASP; NAID #12004207]

Jacqueline Cochran's employment with the British Air Transport Auxiliary, February 10, 1943 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, Air Transport Auxiliary Series, Box 5, ATA (3); NAID #12004392]

English Ferry Pool Contract, undated [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, Air Transport Auxiliary Series, Box 5, English Ferry Pool Service - Contracts; NAID #12004390]

Form letter regarding the British Air Transport Auxiliary, undated [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, Air Transport Auxiliary Series, Box 5, Form Letters by Miss Cochran; NAID #12004391]

Memo regarding Incorporation of Women Civilian Pilots and Trainees into Army Air Force, June 14, 1943 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, WASP Series, Box 5, Militarization (2); NAID #12004191]

Memo from General H.H. Arnold appointing Jacqueline Cochran director of the Office of Special Assistant for Women Pilots, June 21, 1943 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, WASP Series, Box 12, Establishment of WASP; NAID #12004200]

Suggested report to be released in response to unfavorable reports to proposed militarization of the WASPs, 1943 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, WASP Series, Box 5, Militarization (2); NAID #12004190]

"American Women Pilots," September 3, 1943 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, WASP Series, Box 14, Publicity (3); NAID #12000291]

Publicity notice for General Arnold's report to the Secretary of the War, October 18, 1943 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, WASP Series, Box 14, Publicity (2); NAID #12004184]

Letter, Hazel Taylor, WASP Public Relations, to Ralph Cohen, National Aeronautics, on WASP program, January 21, 1944 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, WASP Series, Box 14, Publicity (2); NAID #12004183]

Cochran's Efficiency Rating, March 31, 1944 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, WASP Series, Box 5, Official 201 Papers - JC (1); NAID #12004153]

Memo from General H.H. Arnold deactivating WASP program, October 1, 1944 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, WASP Series, Box 12, Deactivation; NAID #12004152]

Letter, Cochran to WASPs regarding disbandment, October 12, 1944 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, WASP Series, Box 6, Air Forces; NAID #12004149]

Press release, November 16, 1944 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, WASP Series, Box 14, Publicity (1); NAID #12004181]

Material for Annual Report, November 25, 1944 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, WASP Series, Box 14, Publicity (1); NAID #12004176]

Press release regarding Distinguished Service Medal awarded to Cochran, March 1, 1945 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, WASP Series, Box 13, Press Releases (3); NAID #12004379]

WASP Final Report, June 1, 1945 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, WASP Series, Box 12, WASP Final Report; NAID #12004155]

News announcement regarding the New York campaign rally, February 12, 1952 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, Eisenhower Campaign Series, Box 1, Eisenhower-General File 1952 (2); NAID #12000388]

Letter, Cochran to General Eisenhower, February 15, 1952 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, Eisenhower Campaign Series, Box 2, Eisenhower File-Correspondence with General Eisenhower (1); NAID #12004388]

Letter, Cochran to Sigurd Larmon, February 25, 1952 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, Eisenhower Campaign Series, Box 1, Eisenhower-General File 1952 (3); NAID #12000393]

Letter, General Eisenhower to Cochran, March 18, 1952 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, Eisenhower Campaign Series, Box 2, Eisenhower File-Correspondence with General Eisenhower (2); NAID #12004389]

Letter, Cochran to Mrs. Earl Moulton, June 13, 1952 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, Eisenhower Campaign Series, Box 1, Eisenhower-General File 1952 (3); NAID #12000396]

Letter, Cochran to General Lucius Clay, June 15, 1952 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, Eisenhower Campaign Series, Box 3, Eisenhower-Republican Convention Chicago 1952 (1); NAID #12000294]

Certificate, July 1952 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, Eisenhower Campaign Series, Box 3, Eisenhower-Republican Convention Chicago 1952 (2); NAID #12000295]

Letter, Cochran to Mrs. Emily Collins, August 8, 1952 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, Eisenhower Campaign Series, Box 1, Eisenhower-General File 1952 (5); NAID #12000397]

Letter, Bernard Brennan to Cochran, September 19, 1952 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, Eisenhower Campaign Series, Box 3, Eisenhower-Los Angeles (1); NAID #12004384]

Postcard, Richard Nixon to Cochran, September 29, 1952 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, Eisenhower Campaign Series, Box 3, Eisenhower-Los Angeles (3); NAID #12004385]

Letter, Roy Disney to Cochran, November 14, 1952 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, Eisenhower Campaign Series, Box 2, Eisenhower-Disney TV Short: Made during Eisenhower campaign; NAID #12000375]

Letter, Bill Anderson, Walt Disney Productions, to Cochran, November 19, 1952 [Jacqueline Cochran Papers, Eisenhower Campaign Series, Box 2, Eisenhower-Disney TV Short: Made during Eisenhower campaign; NAID #6756403]