Know Ohio: Female Pioneers of the Sky
Now, you may already know the story of how the Wright Brothers built the first practical airplane right here in Ohio, but in honor of Women’s History Month, Know Ohio correspondent Mary Fecteau is up next to tell you about some of Ohio’s female pioneers of the sky.
There is just somethin’ in the air in Ohio…well, it is the Birthplace of Aviation, so that something is probably an airplane – and the Buckeye State claims many famous aviators from Eddie Rickenbacker, the Famous Ace of World War I to astronaut John Glenn. But today we’re going to talk about some true fly girls – women pilots who prove the sky is not the limit.
When you think of female pilots you probably think Amelia Earhart – but it was an Ohioan Jerrie Mock who became the first female pilot to fly solo around the world back in 1964. Mock, who developed an interest in flying as a child, flew a single-engine plane dubbed “The Spirit of Columbus” for 29 days straight. The trip began and ended in Columbus, Ohio, close to where Mock grew up.
But even before Mock, Ohio’s female pilots were reaching new heights…many of them found their calling during World War II, through an experimental program that trained women to fly military aircrafts. They were called Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs – and many Ohioans filled these positions, like Marie Barrett Marsh, whose passion for flying and desire to serve her country led her to leave her life in Youngstown to train as a WASP in Texas.
Another WASP, Jean Hixson of Akron, later became the second woman to break the sound barrier, which she did over Lake Erie. But Hixson wanted to go even higher -- and so she became part of another experiment: Project Mercury, which tested 13 American women to become the first astronauts, reasoning that women, who are generally smaller and eat less than men, would make the most efficient astronauts. Although Hixson passed every test required -- and was determined to be the best of the group -- NASA decided it would go against the "social order" of the time to send women into space first.
Although Hixson never made it to space, she certainly blazed a trail for those who did, like Ohio astronauts Nancy Currie and Sunita Williams. And today, you can learn more about all these high-flying women – and so many more I didn’t mention – at the International Women’s Air & Space Museum, located right here in Cleveland.
Website: International Women's Air & Space Museum
Website Article: The Ohio State University, Aviation Studies, Women in Aviation
Timeline: about Education, Women in Aviation Timeline